Coming from behind …

Like Uncle Kel I did have a cape for rainy rides. It covered everything from handlebars to saddlebag with just my head sticking out the middle.

I am not so old that I remember carbide headlights but when I bought my road bike I had to ask the shop assistant how to change gears. Things had most certainly changed in the thirty or so years that I had been without a bike. Thirty or so years during which the shop assistant had been born!

Now I carry a couple of CO2 cylinders instead of a hand pump. The bike has a computer on board that displays heart rate and power and keeps track of progress via GPS. Clipless pedals keep me firmly clipped onto the bike (yeah, go figure). Disc brakes help me stop. After the ride I upload to Strava (or it could be Training Peaks or many alternatives) and analyse my effort, record it for myself or share it with others. The lights come off and get recharged via a USB connection. Thanks to carbon fibre the bike is the lightest I have ever owned. I am still the engine but even that is voluntary. And how heartening to learn that my quads are more powerful than the engine in a Nikola truck.

I like the changes. I do not hanker for the good old days. But of all the changes the one that blows me away the most is my radar. Most of my riding is on country roads. They are usually quiet but the traffic is not hanging around. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head and I can’t bring myself to desecrate the bike with a mirror. I have been known to wobble when I turn my head to look behind. My Garmin Varia RTL515 radar unit tells me when it’s safe to look around.

It picks up approaching vehicles from behind as much as 140 meters away. It doesn’t see over hills or around bends so traffic may not show until it’s closer. Mine is married to a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt computer so its behaviour is a little different than on a Garmin head unit. It was a breeze to set up and works like a charm. It doesn’t replace turning your head but you can choose a moment when you know that there’s nothing close (but bear in mind that a vehicle traveling at 100kph covers 140 meters in 5 seconds).

Le Tour …

It’s almost over.  Tonight’s (Aussie time) brings le Tour de France to its conclusion on the Champs-Élysées in gay Paris. The race for the yellow jersey is done and there are no more mountains. It will be a field day for the sprinters and a celebratory procession for the rest.

I have watched it on SBS with all the passion of the born again. The commentators Robbie McEwan, Matt Keenan and Bridie O’Donnell have done a splendid job although some coaching on their pronunciation would not go astray. To call a water bottle a bidon is in keeping with l’esprit de la course but to pronounce it “bidden” is a travesty, not to mention the gender and ending scrambling.

I am certain that the riders are pleased to be reaching the end after 3,483km but I’m wondering how I will fill the void it leaves behind.

And what a finish. Stage 20 was a time trial, a mere 36.2km long but ending with a brutal climb. Team Jumbo Visma had led their star rider Primoz Roglic to the very threshhold of victory. He’d worn the yellow jersey for 11 days. Breathing down his neck was another Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, a debutant in the tour and 22 years old tomorrow. It was Pogecar that rose to the occasion. He gets to take home the Yellow Jersey as overall winner, the White Jersey as the best young rider and the Polka dot Jersey as the King of the Mountains. All he needed to be happy was just to take part!

Meanwhile Richie Porte from Tasmania was in fourth place behind Miguel Lopez and breathing down Richie’s neck was Mikel Landa. He had to recover a minute and a half to overhaul Lopez and ride well enough to stay ahead of Landa in the process. He knocked it off at an average speed of 37.5kph.

Kudos, Richie, kudos. He will be just the second Australian to mount the TdF podium.

Stage 21 is for the sprinters. Can Caleb Ewan, the only other Aussie, add another stage win to his collection and repeat his achievement of last year?

Inspiration …

Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life.     

Herbert Henry Asquith

      or perhaps lasted for ever but that’s not how it works. What departs with it depends a lot on the accidents that befall us along the way and the less wise decisions that we make. Most of us have the capacity to hang on to a lot more for a lot longer. This is the story of Gayle’s Uncle Kel, largely in his own words.
Kelvin was born in 1927. Before he was big enough to ride in the saddle he would ride his father’s bike standing on the pedals with one leg through the triangle of the frame. This was the era when …

For night riding the bike was equipped with an acetylene light mounted from the handlebars using a sprung trapezoidal frame. The light had a lower compartment to hold carbide and a water compartment above to allow a regulated drip through to the carbide which generated acetylene to be burnt in front of a reflector to supply light.

Kel bought his first bike in 1937 …

with money earned from delivering morning newspapers. This was the only time that I can recall my father being angry. He seized the new 24 inch wheel bike and later returned with a 28 inch bike that I would not grow out of. I rode this bike from Westgarth to Preston for school for three years. On wet days I used a waterproof cape which extended over the body and forward over the handlebars.

He joined the scouts …

In the early 1940’s, preparations were made in anticipation of Japanese air raids and the Air Raid Precaution Organization was formed. Various scenarios were practised, using scouts on bicycles as messengers to relay information between headquarters and “bomb sites”. In other scenarios, the scouts were used to play the part of injured civilians who needed first aid and to be transported to hospital. My family did not have a telephone at this time, so a person living in Regent was rung to pass a message to his neighbour (another scout messenger) that his services were required at Air Raid Precaution Headquarters. This scout would jump on his bike and collect me en route to Northcote Air Raid Precaution Control. The Scouts were allocated roles as messengers or the injured.

During these war years new tyres were not available so we learnt to retread our own tyres by spreading a rubber solution over the tyre and sprinkling the tyre with crumbed rubber. At night, the suburbs were blacked out to prevent any enemy aircraft from identifying the geography of the city. Even our car and bike lights conformed to blackout rules by having shields to cover the front light and thereby permitting only a glimmer of light to escape.

About this time, my paternal grandfather came to live with us and he took to riding my Dad’s bike. I was amazed! He was 81 years of age and still able to ride a bike!!

The bicycle is fun for kids but to most adults of Kel’s generation it was merely utilitarian. The motor car slowly took over. Eventually, though, Kel and his wife, Gwen were blessed with grandkids and they seem to have been a catalyst …

Many years later our young granddaughters were given small bikes, our daughter, Helen, received a new mountain bike for Mother’s Day and I was given a hybrid aluminium bicycle for painting their house. I joined a Bicycle Victoria event and along with my five and six year old granddaughters we rode from Carlton for the 50 km over the Westgate Bridge to Williamstown and back through Footscray to Carlton. Then when the girls were aged seven and eight and I was 77, we completed our first Great Victorian Bike Ride from Port Fairy to Geelong and never once walked nor required the sag wagon! I continued to participate in the Great Victorian Bike Rides for a further six years.

After six years on the hybrid, I changed to a Jamis, steel framed road bike, but changed the handlebars from flat to butterfly bars to give me a better hill climbing attitude.

By 2015, my wife, Gwen’s health deteriorated, necessitating her move to an aged care facility and I began riding my bike the 5 km from Eaglemont to Alphington every day to visit her. Looking for a new activity, I signed up with the Banyule Bicycle Users Group (BUG), made up of a group of retired men and women in their 60’s and 70’s. I was then 87. Banyule BUG ride two days of the week, travelling along bicycle paths, roads with bicycle lanes and some minor back streets over distances of 30 -95 km

Arriving home and feeling tired after the Banyule BUG ride, and still with another bike ride ahead of me to visit Gwen, I began to look for an electric bike. I chose a CUBE brand, step through frame with derailleur gears. I ride this bike in the evenings to visit my wife. It suits the hilly terrain when I have a heavy load and I am feeling tired. The ebike is heavy and ponderous and I find my road bike much more responsive so I prefer it for the weekly BUG rides.

At nearly 93 years of age, I enjoy my bike riding and look forward to active, safe riding for the next few years.

Amen to that and thank you Kel for taking the time to contribute this blog.

Everested …

It was a warm one yesterday. Late in the winter that can only mean one thing – a north wind, and to make sure we noticed it blew up a gale last evening. Not too much of a mess this time.

Today the weather is perfect, cool, sunny and just a light wind. Ideal for a ride with my very own Gayle at the end of which I checked in with Strava to find that I’d climbed 8,750 meters for the month. If I really was climbing Mt. Everest I’d be at the South Summit. That is very definitely in the death zone, no place to linger. So I got back on the bike and rode off to my favorite hill.

The Cornice Traverse is a knife-edge. On my left there is a drop of 2,400 m down the north-west face, to the right 3,050 m down the Kangshung Face. Getting the bike up the Hillary Step is a bugger of a job but …

It’s done, 8,848 m. It took me 21 rides over 27 days. The current record holder is Ronan McLaughlin. He did it in 1 ride of 7:04:41.

Devil’s Peak – North Face …

Early this month it looked like the state of Victoria was going to be sentenced to house arrest again. I quickly got in a long ride that I thought would be my last for a while.

There are only four reasons that we may leave home and whilst one of them is for exercise it seemed for a few days that we would all be restricted to one hour a day within five kilometers of home. That became the reality for the majority – those that live in the big smoke. Out in the sticks we were allowed greater freedom. We can exercise longer and go further.

The prospect of an hour a day got me thinking of how to avoid a crash in my fitness. I resolved to up the intensity making repeated use of a local hill. When all was clarified it still seemed a good time to chase the Strava Climbing Challenge of 7,500m in a month.

I wrote about the phenomenon of Everesting back in May. So this month has been a serial mini-Everesting. (In the interim the rest of the cycling world has moved on to Trenching – 11,034 meters, the depth of the Mariana Trench. Yes, in a day).

Since I wasn’t restricted to 5km I could make use of a better hill than the nearest one. There is a Strava segment not too far away called Devil’s Peak. It sounds more impressive than it is. The segment is on the south side. On the north side there is a steeper section 1.6km long and about 60m high. That section includes another Strava segment with the far less impressive name Dunolly-Avoca Road Climb. I prefer to think of it as The Devil’s Peak North Face. Real hills are a long way away.

So up and down I went. It took seven visits to nail the Strava Climbing Challenge and get my merit badge …

with efforts that looked like this …

 

And with a week left in the month!

As of yesterday 398,811 people had taken the challenge. My position was 82,002nd. The leader is Lukas Rathgeber who had been out 22 times and notched up 79,028m. He’s in Switzerland. He has real mountains and I suspect extremely strong legs.

A recent Strava innovation is an award for the person who has completed the most runs through a segment in the last 90 days. That makes you the local Legend and you get a set of laurels. Given the population density here in the Goldfields it can take as few as one ride through a segment to become a local legend. Modesty almost prevents me from boasting no fewer than 43 sets of laurels. I have completed the Dunolly-Avoca Road Climb 80 times in the last 90 days, most of them in the last 20 – I think I should get freehold title rather than laurels.

By the way …

Of the dozens of comments that yesterday’s post elicited none make the point better than this one from Roy …

Yes, you must wear a helmet. In a recent bike accident when I hit the back of a 4WD I received a nasty gash around my left eye. My helmeted head put a significant dent in the metal above the tail light. The Emergency Dept staff put it simply. No helmet no Roy!!

The outside world is no place for your brain.

Readers outside Australia may also be wondering why we are attacked by Magpies when they never have that privilege. The answer to that is simple. Our Magpie isn’t really a Magpie at all.

The Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) must have reminded the early settlers of their own Magpie which is not a close relative. It does seem a stretch but bear in mind they had been at sea for a long time.

This one is the original. It’s formal name in English is the Eurasian Magpie, scientifically Pica pica.

There are many other examples of birds that migrants have misnamed for similar looking species back home.

Wear That Helmet …

Personal protective equipment is big news presently.

Cyclists in Melbourne are presently restricted to an hour’s ride a day and no further than 5km from home. Traffic volumes are down but it seems that some drivers see this as an opportunity to drive faster than usual. Where I live cyclists are not quite so restricted but the  roads I ride are open highway – all the traffic is going fast.

It’s worth remembering that Kreisfeld & Harrison 2019 examined the injuries sustained by cyclists and found that about half of those that died did so because of head injuries. So wear that helmet.

Hang on, is that an endorsement? The figures are for Australia. Helmets are compulsory in Australia and compliance is high. Helmets didn’t do a lot for those that died but hey …

there are other good reasons.

Helmets provide excellent protection from Magpie attack. The bird in the video staunchly defends its stretch of road. Where most Magpies are content to swoop without making contact this one routinely hits you in the back of the head. They always attack from behind. I have seen a fox running flat out to escape the attention of a pair of these feisty birds.

 

AIHW: R Kreisfeld & JE Harrison 2019. Pedal cyclist deaths and hospitalisations, 1999–00 to 2015–16. Injury research and statistics series no. 123. Cat. no. INJCAT 203. Canberra: AIHW.

Hot Air …

Over the last few days I’ve estimated my VO2max by some of the many methods available to those unfortunate enough to lack a gas analyzer and cycle ergometer.

The first couple of methods don’t involve getting up out of your chair, the second is the simplest – the inputs are just your resting pulse and your age. The next two involve exercise. The inputs are your weight and active pulse or measured power.

The Rockport test doesn’t involve exercising at maximum capacity, at least not unless you are totally out of shape, therefore it is suitable for elderly gentlemen. The six minute power is meant to be a maximal effort.

It is interesting how close the results cluster together. Whether that is anywhere near a lab measured VO2max is an unknown.

Method

How

Link

VO2max

World Fitness

Questionaire

World Fitness

47

Resting Pulse

Take pulse

MDApp method 1

42

Rockport

Walk 1 mile fast

MDApp method 2

39

6 minute power

Cycle

Michael Konczer

40.6

VO2max peaks in young adults and then declines at about 1% a year. Young and middle aged men can halve the rate of decline by regular vigorous exercise but the rest of us are stuck with it. It is largely the consequence of a declining maximum heart rate. The second most important culprit is increasing body fat.

After 70 it’s supposed that VO2max drops off a cliff but the evidence is getting pretty thin at that stage. Clearly nobody told Giuseppe Marinoni who set the Hour Record in the men’s 80 to 84 category last year by cycling 39.004 km.

Great things are still possible.

How Fit … ?

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we learn that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42 which I’m sure is correct. If we ask Strava how fit I am the answer is …

154.

Not bad, eh?

In fact three point six (recurring) times greater than the meaning of everything but notice that back in February when I started tracking my bike riding on Strava my fitness was zero. As far as I can recall I had a pulse and could ride around the block – zero it could not have been.

It looks as though my fitness has improved and in the last couple of months there is the suggestion of a plateau. The dotted line at the right hand end is a prediction of what would happen if I quit exercise. In broad terms I wouldn’t argue with all that but what does the 154 represent? If you are a 152 am I fitter than you?

There are a number of metrics in Strava and other fitness and training apps for which you can find an explanation but not a definition or a formula. Strava’s explanation from their glossary is …

While fitness is a complicated concept, it can be simplified to an accumulation of training. The Fitness Score is calculated using Training Load and/or Relative Effort to measure your daily training, and an impulse-response model to quantify its effect over time. This will intuitively capture the development of fitness from training, as well as the loss of fitness during a break.

and you won’t find Relative Effort or Training Load in the glossary.

So training volume goes into a black box where it is fiddled with in mysterious ways and out comes the answer in unspecified units.

Fitness is indeed a complicated concept. The word fitness has a great deal of work to do. At it’s broadest it means capacity to do something. It’s gets a lot easier to get a handle on it when you define the something. Let’s make that endurance exercise. Now we can consider the factors that contribute to capacity. They may be physical characteristics that the athlete in question is stuck with such as leg length or characteristics that are amenable to manipulation such as weight and body composition.

Endurance sports are various ways of turning food into distance covered with the prize going to the fastest person to the finishing line. Oxygen is required to burn the food. A good measure of fitness therefore is the maximum rate at which oxygen can be utilised or VO₂max. It comes in two flavours – absolute and relative.

To measure VO₂max accurately is a laboratory task. Inspired air is compared with expired air to find the amount of oxygen removed by an athlete as they perform a steadily harder task until the athlete cannot continue or the oxygen consumption reaches a plateau. The difference in humidity and temperature of inspired and expired air has to be addressed. A mask is worn throughout.

The Absolute VO₂max is simply the number of litres of oxygen taken up per minute going full gas. For relative VO₂max you divide by weight and express the result in millilitres per minute per kilogram. In a series of tests for a single athlete it’s handy to have both in order to distinguish between the contributions of adaptation and weight loss. If comparing one athlete with another relative VO₂max is more useful.

As the saying goes “Test is better than guessed” but it requires attendance at a lab and a fee in the vicinity of $200 a time. It’s not a one off – if it’s worth doing then it’s worth doing regularly to ensure that training is having the desired effect.

There are ways to estimate VO₂max rather than measure it. These don’t involve wearing a mask and analyzing expired air. Some don’t even involve exercise!

If you are interested in an estimate at the level of a general health interest try the online calculator at worldfitness.org. In my case I think the answer was a little flattering. Four different ways are on offer at MDApp including one based solely on resting heart rate and age. For the other three you will need to do some exercise. The Rockport Walking Test involves a one mile walk. The formula includes a refinement that reduces the error involved in being the wrong gender.

For the price of five or six visits to the laboratory you can buy a smart watch that will estimate your VO₂max and tell the time. Passler et al 2019 (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health) tested a bunch of wearable devices and concluded that they don’t do a particularly good job of measuring energy expenditure or calculating VO₂max.I believe they are reasonably good at keeping time and some play music.

If you are male and have a power meter you can estimate VO₂max by investing six minutes of your life in all out effort on the bike and plugging the result into a calculator provided by Michael Konczer. I haven’t been able to find a formula for females. So sorry girls – you’re walking. The formula used is …

It is an informative site with a table that you can consult to see how your result stacks up.

Regular testing is the ideal way to keep track of progress. A six minute test over the same course is directly comparable especially when measured by power rather than distance because that reduces the problem of variable winds. Estimating VO₂max from it may not be as exact as a lab measurement but the error will be much the same each time and it gives a value that will serve well enough for rough comparisons with other athletes. Friends will be delighted to hear of your improvement.

VO₂max is a very handy metric but by itself it will not tell you who will win the next race. Economy is the ratio of work done to energy expended and this varies from athlete to athlete as does the ability to tolerate workloads close to maximum. According to Allen, Coggan and McGregor VO₂max is to be found somewhere between 106 and 120% of functional threshold power (FTP).  If you know all those numbers for every entrant your crystal ball has a better chance. And the higher your VO₂max the better the chance that it will be you.