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I Shall Return!

It has been a while since I’ve posted any new product reviews on this blog so I thought I’d give you a quick explanation. Our oldest son is 35 years old and was born with multiple birth defects. Our hope and dream has always been that someday he might be able to live on his own (and that’s what he wants as well). Unfortunately, recently he has experienced some serious health issues and we now realize that this particular dream will probably never happen. While he has come a long way from where he started, he still has a lot of physical hurdles in front of him and will have to live with us for the rest of his life.

While I have several reasons for trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, our son is definitely at the top of the list! The quickest way to bring either my wife or myself to tears is to ask what is going to happen to our son when we are gone. We both try to stay as healthy as possible so that we can put off finding out the answer to that question as long as possible.

As our son is recovering from his most recent setback I am going to stop writing for a little while, but in the words of General Douglas MacArthur, “I shall return!” See you soon!

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2014 in Life On Two Wheels

 

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I Am Going To Miss You Anna!

anna Getting Ready For RAGBRAI

Getting Ready For RAGBRAI

For the past five summers I’ve ridden with Anna, a female cyclist who lives near me, as she trained for RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). Anna is not only a great athlete, but she has also written several product reviews for this blog as well (Lululemon Cycling Clothing, Panoptx 7Eye Briza Women’s Cycling Sunglasses, and Sip, Clip and Go Coffee). Before our first ride this summer Anna informed me that she and her husband will be moving out-of-state before long, so this would be our last year of cycling together. Even though I ride with a lot of different cyclists every year, both male and female, I am really going to miss riding with Anna!

I remember the day I met Anna quite well—I had just returned from several weeks of photographing archaeological sites in the Middle East the day before and was not only tired, but my legs were stiff from being confined to a small vehicle for a few weeks and then cramped into an airplane for the 21-hour trip back home. I was only a few blocks away few my house when I got passed by a young blonde woman who passed me like I was sitting still! No one ever likes getting passed on a bike, but getting passed by a woman was more than I could bear (sorry folks, I’m Old School). It took me a mile to catch up to her and I just said, “You caught me sleeping” as I passed her. Two miles later I stopped for some road construction and Anna pulled up next to me and introduced herself—then asked about what route I was taking and asked if she could join me. Since then we have ridden a lot of miles together between the time in mid-June when she gets out of school (she is a teacher) and the time she leaves for RAGBRAI.

I am not sure where she is moving to yet, but I am certain she will find someone else to ride with her next year as she prepares for RAGBRAI (she goes every year). Therefore, I would like to give that person a warning: Hiding behind that lovely smile Anna has a mean streak. Over the years I have learned that you should never tell her that you don’t feel well or that you are tired. When you say, “Anna, my legs are sore so let’s take it easy today,” she hears, “Anna, drop down into your aerobars and set a pace that will make me puke before we hit 20 miles!” Last year I had to spend a few months off the bike due to a medical problem and then ended up having surgery on my esophagus just a week before I met up with Anna for our first ride of the summer. A few miles into the ride I told her I was having trouble keeping up with her because of the surgery—she just smiled and said, “Just sounds like an excuse to me!” Like a gladiator in the Colosseum—no mercy expected and none given!

If you are one of the thousands of cyclists heading out to Iowa next week for RAGBRAI you can look for Anna in her “Team Big” jersey. If you see her, please tell her “Hello” for me!

Anna, I wish you well wherever you and Nate end up moving to. May the wind always be at your back!

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Life On Two Wheels

 

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The Performance Zone: Sports Nutrition And Recovery

The Performance Zone

The Performance Zone: Sports Nutrition And Recovery

I took up cycling a little over thirteen years ago and am still embarrassed by how little I knew about sports nutrition at the time. I’m talking about the “cover your face and hide” type of embarrassment. I started cycling to lose weight and ignorantly thought the best way to do it would be to starve myself on a ride and drink only water. It was not just a bad idea—it was just plain stupid. After an hour ride I was worn out and it took me two days to recover. However, I used to take solace in the fact I had given myself a “good workout” (what a fool).

As I grew more accustomed to cycling my friends tell me I was “bonking” or “hitting the wall.” I didn’t know what either of these phrases meant at the time—but my well-meaning friends told me I just needed to eat a lot of carbs during a bike ride and everything would be fine. Without any guidance I began ingesting too many carbs and started gaining weight again—in spite of increasing my workout time! It was a really discouraging time in my life!

Somehow I eventually found and read The Performance Zone: Your Nutrition Action Plan for Greater Endurance & Sports Performance, by John Ivy and Robert Portman, and my cycling life changed forever! This book is a primer on how your muscles grow, work, get fuel and recover. The book explains how to calculate your hydration, carbohydrate and protein needs for numerous sports. I would call The Performance Zone a “must read” for anyone participating in endurance sports, such as cycling, hockey, swimming, football, etc. Over the past ten years I’ve bought at least a dozen copies of this book—some of the copies were given  to fellow athletes, other times I bought copies to replace ones I “loaned” to friends (some of my friends can’t add or subtract, but they are great “book keepers”).

In my situation, based upon cycling speed, weight and a few other factors, I was able to plot out a suitable course of action. I followed the instructions and started consuming 30 grams of carbohydrates every 30 minutes and my performance vastly improved (I am close to being a Clydesdale, so your nutritional needs will vary). Not only did my speed and distance improve, but so did my recovery time. I quickly went from getting exhausted after an hour ride to riding for three or four hours before work and then doing it again the next morning. Eventually I worked my way up to doing Century rides before going to the office!

This paperback book is available from Amazon.com for under $10.00 (Basic Health Publications, Inc., 146 pages). While this book is a great introduction to sports nutrition, there are a few other books I would also recommend to serious cyclists, such as The Paleo Diet for Athletes, The Athletes Guide to Recovery, and Distance Cycling.

 
 

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The First 1,000 Miles Are Always The Hardest

Eagle Lake, Wisconsin Still Had A Lot Of Ice This Week

Eagle Lake In Wisconsin Still Had A Lot Of Ice This Week

Yesterday I finally passed the 1,000 mile (1,600 km) mark of cycling for this year. The first 1,000 miles of the year are always the hardest—and even though I love winter cycling, I have to tell you that this past winter was simply brutal! Chicago officially experienced the coldest four-month period in recorded history, and I live north of Chicago where the temps were even colder. We also had over 80″ (203 cm) of snow, which makes it either the second or third snowiest winter in Chicago history. And even though I have not been able to verify it, it seems to me that this also was windiest winter I’ve ever experienced.

I normally have around 1,500 miles on my bike by this time of the year, but the brutal weather make winter cycling even more difficult than usual. If you are not familiar with winter cycling you need to understand that your average speed on the bike is going to be a lot slower than normal—not just because you are pushing through fresh snow, but also because the air is thicker and you are carrying a lot more gear than you would in the summer. In addition, you have to stop every time you try to get a drink so you can lower your face mask and unscrew the thermos bottle. The coldest ride I went out on this year was at -11 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 Celsius). We had a few days where the temperature was a bit colder, but on those days the wind was howling at over 40 MPH so I decided to stay home and sit near the fireplace.

Though the amount of time riding this winter was less than normal, I didn’t have a lot of free time either. There were days when I had to shovel my driveway three times in the same day! So, as much as I love winter, I am glad this winter is over. There is still some snow on the ground if you look hard enough, and as of three days ago some of our lakes were still closed due to the ice. The photo above was take this past Saturday at Eagle Lake in Racine County, Wisconsin—the lake was still about 90% covered by ice.

I am not sure how many miles I will ride this year, but I should comfortably be able to get at least 5,000 miles, providing I stay in good health. However, I might have to miss a few days this fall—a few weeks ago our daughter-in-law announced that she is expecting a child in August. Though I am still way too young for the job, I guess this means I am going to be a grandfather! It also means I am going to have to start looking for a suitable bike for my grandson (haven’t decided yet between a fat bike or a cyclocross bike).

 

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Making Your Own Carbohydrate Gels

Ingredients For Making Your Own Carbohydrate Gels

Ingredients For Making Your Own Carbohydrate Gels

Last a fall I was out on a long bike ride with a friend of mine when he asked me how much money I spent a month on the carbohydrate gels I use. It was a question I really hadn’t thought much about before, but after doing a few quick calculations in my head I was shocked. Most of the carbohydrate gels I use are organic (a word usually synonymous with expensive), and during most of the year I go through 30 packs a week which comes out to $180 a month (I am so glad my wife never looks at the American Express statements). After I got home I decided to see if I could find a way to cut my expenses by creating my own carb gels, and at the end of this article you will find a few recipes that I have used. However, before we get to the recipes I need to explain how to choose your ingredients (if you want to experiment on your own).

I am a distance cyclist and except for my winter rides in the snow I seldom take a ride of under two hours. On long rides I normally burn between 900 and 1,000 calories an hour (based on my weight and speed). As a result, I try to consume 300 calories an hour (including 60 grams of carbohydrates). I get 100 calories an hour from my sports hydration mix and the other 200 calories from carb gels (and bananas when available). Most commercial carb gels offer a mixture of both simple and complex carbs and have 100 calories, along with 20 to 30 grams of carbs, and cost anywhere from $1.20 to $3.00 per package. Store-bought energy gels also have about 45mg sodium and 35mg potassium per serving. Simple carbs give a quick shot of energy, while complex carbs provide a slower release of energy. If your gel is composed entirely of simple carbs you will feel a quick rush of energy, followed by a sinking feeling a few minutes later.

You can make your own carbohydrate gels with just a few inexpensive ingredients—and it will only cost you around .30¢ per serving! As a bonus, your gels will always be fresh and free from unwanted chemicals. Here is a quick breakdown of the main ingredients that I use in my gels…

Brown Rice Syrup has 65 calories per tablespoon (21g) and 16 grams of carbohydrates. Brown rice syrup has a Glycemic Index of 25 and is composed of about 50% complex carbohydrates, 45% maltose, and 3% glucose. I buy Now Foods Organic Brown Rice Syrup from a local grocery store (it’s in their health food department) and it sells for under $5 for a 16-ounce container.

Raw Honey is a 100% simple sugar and has a Glycemic Index of 58. Honey has 64 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 17 grams of carbohydrates. Simple sugars can elevate your blood sugar very quickly, so you don’t want to take too much at one time. By the way, make sure you buy raw honey and not the processed garbage that comes in the cute bear containers.

Light Agave Nectar has 60 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 16 grams of carbohydrates, with a Glycemic Index of 11. Maple Syrup has 53 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 13 grams of carbohydrates, with a Glycemic Index of 54. Blackstrap Molasses has 45 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 11g of carbohydrates, along with 15mg of sodium and 500mg of potassium. Blackstrap molasses has a Glycemic Index of 55. Since blackstrap molasses has a strong flavor you should probably start with just a bit of it and work your way up!

Now for the recipes—I wish I could take credit for all of these, but most of them are recipes that I’ve cobbled together from other cyclists. However, the first recipe is mostly mine and it is my favorite!

Blue Ribbon Butterscotch Candy

Mix 8 tablespoons brown rice syrup, 2 tablespoons light agave nectar, 1 tablespoon warm water, 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1/4 tablespoon Morton Lite Salt Mixture, and about 1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt. This mixture provides about 100 calories per 1.5 tablespoon. A ¼ teaspoon of Morton Lite Salt Mixture has 290mg sodium and 350mg potassium (I use this as an easy way to get potassium into my gels). This is my favorite homemade gel—and as the name implies, it tastes like butterscotch candy (and is highly addictive).

Honey GOO Recipe

This recipe comes from HomeGOO, a company that sells incredibly low-priced flasks for carb gels. Mix 4 ounces of raw honey, one tablespoon organic blackstrap molasses, 1/8 teaspoon sea salt, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. This recipe will approximately fill a 6-ounce flask.

Down And Dirty

I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it is very easy to make and has a mild taste. Mix 3/4 cup of brown rice syrup, 1/2 cup of agave nectar, 1/2 cup of raw honey, and 1/2 tsp of sea salt.

Finding A Flask

HomeGOO sells two different reusable flasks. The five-ounce Goo Flask is a 5.5 inch tall BPA free plastic container with a leak proof, push-pull valve. The flexible six-ounce Goo Flask is made from ultra-lightweight BPA free plastic and collapses as you consume the gel. It also has a push/pull drink spout with removable cap, though the cap really isn’t necessary. These bottles are easy to wash by hand and are dishwasher safe.

HomeGOO Flexible Reusable GOO Flask

HomeGOO Flexible, Reusable GOO Flask

HomeGOO sells the five ounce flask for only .99¢, which means that if you only used in one time you still saved money over the cost of buying prepackaged gels. The six-ounce flask sells for $3 and should last a very long time. If you are into endurance sports you owe it to yourself to try these flasks!

 

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RFLKT iPhone Powered Bike Computer

Wahoo Fitness RFLKT Bike Computer

Wahoo Fitness RFLKT Bike Computer

If you were to ask me to name my favorite cycling product of all-time, without any hesitation I would tell you about Cyclemeter by Abvio. I’ve used this iPhone app to record my last 20,000 miles or so of cycling. It is the most user-friendly iPhone cycling app you will find and it is easy to customize to suit your needs. It’s not that Cyclemeter is just better than the other cycling GPS apps, but it is so far advanced beyond the other apps that it doesn’t even belong in the same class. In all seriousness, it is worth buying an Apple iPhone if for no other reason than to use this app! I’d rather have the Cyclemeter/iPhone combination than any Garmin computer on the market. This iPhone app is only $4.99 and is available for download via iTunes.

Since I carry my iPhone in my back jersey pocket I am not able to see “real-time” statistics (speed, distance, cadence, heart rate, etc.). As a result, I’ve always had a second bike computer mounted on my handlebars so I could read it as I was cycling. Fortunately, Wahoo Fitness has recently introduced the RFLKT iPhone Powered Bike Computer and it is now one of my top two favorite cycling products of all time!

The RFLKT wirelessly reflects the information that is on your iPhone (hence the name) and displays that information on a compact unit that easily mounts on your handlebars or stem. What makes this bike computer so amazing is that it is completely customizable—you get to choose exactly what is displayed on every screen (and you can create a lot of screens), and you also get to choose the font size (from small to very large).

The RFLKT measures 2.4” long by 1.6” wide by 0.5” thick and weighs only two-ounces. It is powered by a replaceable coin cell battery and the wireless connectivity is made through a Bluetooth 4.0 connection to your iPhone. This computer has several mounting options, including quarter turn, so it is perfect for road bikes, mountain bikes, and cyclocross. I’ve used it in pouring rain and in temps as low as -12F and it hasn’t missed a beat!

The Wahoo Fitness RFLKT Bike Computer retails for $100 and is worth every cent! Wahoo Fitness also has cadence meters and heart rate monitors that tie into the Cyclemeter app (there are other apps available for use with the RFLKT unit, but I’d stick with Cyclemeter).

Note: In the photo above you will notice that my average speed for that bike ride was under 11 MPH. I was riding through 5″ of fresh snow on my Surly Necromancer Pugsley Fat Bike and anything over 8 MPH in deep snow is pretty good!

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in Product Reviews

 

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Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix For Winter Sports

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

For the past couple of years I’ve used Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix as my primary drink while on the bike. This drink mix was developed by Allen Lim, PhD, a sport scientist and coach for a professional cycling team. He created this product “from scratch” because he thought he could improve on the usual prepackaged hydration products that were already on the market. While I love Skratch mix when served cold, or even at room temperature, it just didn’t appeal to me when served piping hot. In fact, I don’t know of any sports drink that tastes good when served hot. However, this past fall Skratch Labs introduced their new Apples & Cinnamon flavor and this product is intended to be served hot!

Thanks to a snowy and bitterly cold winter I’ve been drinking a lot of the Apples & Cinnamon flavor Skratch mix while cycling this year. I always fill two thermos bottles with this drink mix before I go out on a ride and after several hundred miles through the snow I can say I dearly love this product! It tastes great piping hot and even when it starts to cool down. While the cinnamon flavor is more dominant than the apple, this mix is perfect for all winter athletes and I highly recommend it.

A 16-ounce serving of this drink mix has 90 calories and provides 22 grams of carbohydrates, along with 300mg of sodium and 40mg of potassium. The ingredients list is fairly simple: Cane sugar, dextrose, apples, sodium citrate, citric acid, cinnamon, magnesium lactate, calcium citrate, potassium citrate, and ascorbic acid.

You can buy this Exercise Hydration Mix in either a one-pound package or as single-serving individual packages (sticks). The best buy is the one-pound package which retails for $19.50 and will make twenty 16-ounce servings. When the temperature warms up a bit and you want a cool drink, this product also comes in several other flavors, including Lemon & Limes, Raspberries, Oranges, and Pineapple. While I like all of them, the Raspberry is my favorite—the flavor is not overpowering and it is a very crisp and refreshing drink.

 

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