Category: science

Aches and Pains When Riding? Consider a Bike Fit!

If you’re like me, and most of the riders I know, you have some sort of issue with some part (of your anatomy) when riding. Sometimes it’s numbness in the nether-regions, sometimes it’s numbness in the hands, sometimes it’s burning in the feet and sometimes it’s some other nit somewhere else.

In the past I’ve dealt with several of these problems. Thanks to finding the right equipment and most importantly finding the right fit, though, that hasn’t been the case. Until recently…

Last year I ordered my first (and only) Project One bike from Trek: my boy Blue. Yup, that’s him below.

Blue, the wild mustang of Markleeville, named after Blue, one of leaders of a band of wild horses in the Pine Nuts.

It was an awesome experience, made even better thanks to the collaboration I had with Big Daddy’s Bike, Ski & Board (aka Big Daddy’s Bike & Brew I believe) in Gardnerville, NV.

Keith and crew did an awesome job helping me pick certain parts and speccing the bike and of course they assembled it as well. We pretty much nailed it! We did the basic bike fit — you know, elbows bent, not too extended in the cockpit, knees over the spindles using a plumb line — all that stuff, and the bike felt really good. I then double checked some measurements on my Domane and tried to replicate those as best I could on the Emonda.

After several thousand miles, however, I was still getting too much numbness in the hands and so I decided to quit putting off that professional bike fit.

I had one many years ago when I lived in the Bay Area and it was during those sessions that the bike fit technician suggested (among other tweaks) that I should invest in Speedplay pedals. Those pedals allowed for more set back than most (there’s a special plate that helps).

I have really long (14.5) feet and was getting too much hot foot because, as it turns out, the spindle was in front of the ball of my foot, thereby putting too much pressure on the toes and the nerves therein. I’m still riding Speedplays today and have been able to find some Euro size 15s that are Speedplay (aka 4-hole) specific, so no more need for that extender base plate and therefore the stack height that goes along with it.

Fast forward to today; last week to be more precise. After doing a bit of research I decided to go to Barton Ortho and Wellness in South Lake Tahoe, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Blue and I met with Harrison, a physical therapist and professional bike fitter. After a short interview it was on the bike for a look-see.

Harrison set up lasers to check knee alignment first and noticed my knees were coming in towards the top tube on the upstroke. We then checked my feet – yup, I’m a pronator – happens when we get older. Those arches go away. Some shims inside of the shoes and a re-check and it was much better.

We then took a look at my knee extension and seat position. Guess what? My seat was just a bit too high (we dropped it about 1/4 inch) and the nose was down 3 degrees. Both of those things made me put more pressure on the hands. And, as it turns out, that seat position was also putting a bit too much stress on the hips and lower back. Ah, that’s why the sore lower back maybe? Notwithstanding the knee issues it could cause… Seat down, nose up. Good to go.

A Bit of “Table-work”

Off the bike I got and on the table I went for a leg length and flexibility check. Both legs measured the same length so that was good. Flexibility was pretty good too but Harrison did notice some tightness in the left hip as well as the right ankle. A couple things to work on, certainly.

Next…I have a follow up appt. in the coming week and among other things I’m going to get fitted for some orthotics and report back on how things are going so far. Unfortunately, due to the smoke, I’ve not been able to ride outside but thanks to FulGaz (see last week’s post) I’ve managed to test out the new fit every day.

Here’s What I’ve Experienced so Far

While hand numbness is still there it’s MUCH LESS than it was. With my upper body size I put more weight on the bars than those of you who are much lighter and that’s not going to change. What could change, though, is my abdominal strength. Another reason it’s good to talk with a professional: I’ve been working on the lower back thinking that pain was due to lack of strength there. On the contrary, and somewhat counterintuitively, it’s my abs that need the work.

In other news…Back pain? Gone! Power? Up! Left/right balance? Better! Connection to the bike over all? Much improved! Oh, and the price? $250.00. For both sessions.

A bargain IMHO.

So if you are having some of these same botherations than you too are a candidate for a professional bike fit.

Get one and there’s no doubt you’ll be more blissful on the bike!

Let me know how it goes.

Wind, Wind and More Wind

Why is it that the headwind on the way out isn’t a tailwind on the way back? How come those crosswinds turn to headwinds? Why does wind seem to come screaming down one little canyon from the east but on another canyon just up the road it comes from the west?

As a local rider and friend, and member of CA Alps Cycling said to me some time ago (and he’s lived here for decades): “The wind can be a bit vexing here, can’t it?” So, true, Rich. So very true.

I originally published this post in November of 2018. After some recent “howlers” here in the California Alps though — including a ride just last week where the crosswinds were so strong I had to lean in so much I felt like I was riding at a 45 degree angle — I thought it might be time to re-post it. So here ’tis, a little trip down a windy, memory lane.

As a San Jose native, I was very familiar with the wind patterns. I lived in South San Jose for many years and could plan my rides knowing pretty well how the wind would blow: Go out early and get the tailwind on the way home. Go out later in the afternoon and get the headwind on the way home. Certainly this did depend on the direction of my ride but for the most part I could easily predict the patterns.

So, what’s the deal with that moving air here in the Sierra Nevada?

Well, thanks to “A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide” by Stephen Whitney, we’ve got some answers. 

Mountain winds: “Winds and breezes passing over a rugged mountain range such as the Sierra follow tortuous courses over and around ridges, up and down canyons, through gaps in the crest. Eddies set up by the irregular terrain blow here and there in vigorous gusts that rattle trees and shrubs one minute only to abruptly die down the next. In the protection of a large boulder or grove of trees there may be scarcely any wind at all, while just a few yards away, in a more exposed area, it howls furiously.”

Wind-driven clouds in the CA Alps

Okay, so that makes sense. It’s somewhat analogous to the flow of a river. Rocks = rapids. Eddies are often downstream of those big rocks and flat water can be seen where there aren’t any big rocks to interrupt the water’s flow.

Let’s dive a little deeper, though. Why is it that I can head up Hwy. 4 (towards Ebbett’s Pass) with a headwind and then not get that tailwind on the way back? Okay, sometimes I do get the tailwind but it’s not consistent like it was in Silicon Valley.

Well, Mr.Whitney gives us a bit more information: It’s about mountain breezes, valley breezes and the mountain ranges “intrusion” into the tropopause

“On a warm summer morning the air next to the ground surface is heated and rises. Cooler air nearby moves in to replace it and rises in turn. This movement is felt during the day as an upslope breeze.” Typically, he writes, this starts about three hours after sunrise and reaches its peak during the hottest hours of the day and then it tapers off again around dusk.”

This is a valley breeze.  

“At night, cool air flows downslope, creating the mountain breeze.”

Dust off those cobwebs and cast your mind back

To those high school science days (daze?), that is…

Here’s some additional data: “Wind speed increases over mountain crests and through canyons and passes because air – like any fluid – accelerates when forced through a narrow passage. As a volume of air moves upslope, it is increasingly squeezed between the mountains and the tropopause, the inversion layer acting as a lid on the lower atmosphere.”

“Since the volume of air remains the same as it squeezes over the mountain crest, it becomes elongated.” Okay so that means it picks up speed. Seems reasonable…He goes on to write that “air forced to squeeze through a canyon or mountain pass is accelerated in much the same way.”

In doing a bit more googling today, I came across this article from the Smithsonian. I don’t recall discussing the Bernoulli Principle in Bio 1 (or any other bio or science courses I took in high school or community college), but if I did it’s been too many years or perhaps it’s due to mistakes of a misspent (not all of it, I swear) youth. Nonetheless, it’s on point! The principle, not the misspent youth…

Mountain winds, valley breezes and mountain breezes

So, there we have it! Mountain winds, mountain breezes and valley breezes combined with the myriad canyons, crests, passes and that ol’ tropopause challenge those of us who cycle in the California Alps.

It’s a rare day when we have no wind and due to the topography you can’t count on consistency. If you ride here then you, grasshopper, like me, need to learn to embrace the wind. 

Ride safe out there and let’s kick some passes asses!™ Even the windy ones…

Climbing Mountain Passes – 5 Key Things to Know

I’ve lived here in the heart of the Sierra Nevada for about 3 1/2 years now and in that time I’ve tackled our “Big 3” (Carson, Ebbett’s, Monitor) a bunch of times (well except for Carson Pass), and I’ve done some of the lesser known climbs as well. The below tally is by no means a comprehensive Sierra Nevada list but it gives me enough experience to offer some advice as to what to be wary of when you’re climbing big mountains here in the California Alps.

The Current Count

  • Carson Pass = 1
  • Ebbett’s Pass (N. – the Markleeville side) = 14
    (my favorite climb as you can see)
  • Ebbett’s Pass (S. – the Bear Valley side – from Hermit Valley) = 2
  • Geiger Grade = 1
  • Luther Pass = (S. – the Tahoe side) = 2
  • Kingsbury Grade = 2
  • Monitor (E. – the Topaz side) = 5
  • Monitor (W. – the Markleeville side) = 7
  • Spooner Summit (Hwy. 50 – E. – the Carson City side) = 2

That’s a total of 32 climbs on local mountains (or passes as they are also referred) for approximately 112,000 feet of climbing, or the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest almost four (4) times! Here’s some of what I’ve learned in all those hours and pedal revolutions.

Climbs up Mountains are Steep

Yeah, this may seem like a no-brainer but just last week, as I was climbing the west side of Monitor (the first 3.5 miles of which average close to 10%) I came across a few cyclists struggling to maintain any kind of cadence. I noticed that several did not have the right gearing (I ride a 50-34 in front and a 30-11 in back).

Lesson learned #1: make sure you have the right chainrings and cogset.

The Air is Thin

A couple riders told me as I passed (and they gasped for air) that they didn’t realize how hard it would be and that it was difficult to get any air. Some riders I’ve talked to like to come up and spend time here before they hit the climbs. Others come right up and do their climbing before their body realizes they’re here. In any case, be do your homework!

Lesson learned #2: address acclimatization.

Winds Can be Vexing

One of our members, Dr. Rich Harvey, commented on this post (which I wrote some time ago) and it was he that used the word “vexing.” So appropriate because here in the mountains there really are NO reliable wind patterns. Just yesterday I rode part-way up Ebbett’s Pass, into the wind. Did I get the tailwind on the way back? Nope. The wind shifted due to, among other things, the valley winds (explanation in that post).

Lesson learned #3: It’s a rare day that there is no wind and so set your expectations (and plan your wardrobe) accordingly.

The Climate can Change Quickly

There can be a temperature variation of 10-20 degrees between the start of the climb and the summit! And, in the summertime there are often afternoon thunderstorms. During the 2018 Deathride several of our riders were pelted with hail and rain on Carson Pass. This was in July and it was sunny here in Markleeville!

Just last Saturday I climbed Monitor. I brought an additional neck-gaiter and hat for the descent but it wasn’t enough. The wind came up and the temperature dropped while I was still climbing up to the summit. I did have a vest on, and arm-warmers, but I should have brought another jersey or vest. In the past I’ve done so (using a cinch-pack). This day, though, I didn’t follow my own advice and I was so cold on the descent I started to shiver badly enough that I had to stop and warm up before I could continue.

Lessen learned #4: Bring the necessary gear, or layer up, so you can deal with any adverse conditions that may arise.

There is No Cell-Service

We’ve all come to take cell service for granted. Here in Markleeville it’s really only Verizon that works. My wife and I had AT&T in San Jose but when we moved up here we quickly switched to Verizon. That doesn’t do diddly-squat up on Ebbett’s Pass, though, or even in some of the lower elevations. I carry a Garmin inReach Mini on my rides. Admittedly, I already had it before I moved up to the mountains because I’ve got a yellow-jacket allergy. But, had I not had it before I moved here I would have gotten it afterwards. Among other things (including an SOS feature) it allows me to send texts to my wife from anywhere in the world.

Lesson learned #5: Get a satellite communication device if you can and if you can’t (and I do this also) make sure you have clearly communicated to “your person” your route, your approximate return time and what to do “if you don’t hear from me by such and such a time.”

Cycling in the Mountains is an Awesome Experience

And one that is made that much better if you are prepared for what you’ll experience. Understand the topography; prepare for the thin air, wind and climate; and address communication. By following some of my lessons learned you too can have an awesome experience cycling in one of the world’s most amazing venues – the Sierra Nevada, and our little slice of heaven within, the California Alps.

A Walk on the Wildlife Side

As a follow up to my last post, and since we recently installed a wildlife camera here at California Alps Cycling HQ, I thought I’d regale you with some photos of the wild things that we see here in the California Alps.

Here’s “Yogi” in action!

This time of year we see more eagles than usual. While there are a couple regular mating pairs of baldies at two (2) of our local lakes, during the winter we tend to see more of them, as well as some Goldens (alas, no good pix of them yet) due to the calf-birthing that takes place nearby in Carson (aka Eagle) Valley. They are here for the after-birth (births?). Yeah, somewhat gross but I like the fact that the eagles don’t mind cleaning up after the mama-cows. I suspect the ranchers like it too – nothing worse than stepping in a gut-pile!

We’ve got a rafter of wild turkeys that hang out nearby too. While I am a hunter (and have taken one in the past) I don’t hunt anything here on the property – we enjoy the company too much. I can’t speak for the resident coyote(s) though.

Many people don’t know that if Benjamin Franklin had his way the wild turkey would be our national bird. While they are beautiful birds (and big too), and have the vision of an eagle, I personally think the Founding Fathers made the right choice.

Speaking of coyotes…There’s a sizable number of them here in Markleeville and they’ve been known to work together to take outdoor pets. Just last week we saw three (3) of them here at HQ just after dusk. Last summer, one of them took one of our neighbor’s chickens. They are wiley (pun intended) suckers.

Caught this guy on our wildlife camera just last week.
SQUIRREL!
Looks like it’s thinking about what to do next or perhaps trying to figure out where it put those pine nuts.

We’re pretty sure we’ve got a mountain lion in the area and so I’m hoping to get a shot of it soon. I’ll keep you posted!

We knew there were WILD animals here, no doubt, but to see them, or evidence of them, in person, makes it much more real. Have any photos of wildlife you’ve taken while on a ride or hike in the California Alps? Feel free to post them on our Facebook page (@bikedalps) if so!

Stay wild my friends, and ride safe!

Another Successful Adopt-a-Highway Event in the California Alps

Success on an Adopt-a-Highway day is a mixed bag, no pun intended. It’s great to be able to give back to the community but I wish we didn’t have to pick up trash in the first place. It’s mind-boggling to me that people still litter at all!

Bailey, Henry, Pat, Mark & January with the day’s haul from Saturday’s clean up.

Now to be sure, some of the littering was likely accidental – for example the Kenworth branded mudflap we found, or the socket wrench, with a couple sockets, likely left there by a distracted, or perhaps hurried, repair-maker (there’s not a whole lot of shoulder on that particular chunk of Highway 89 where this stuff was found).

Other than those “special” items, we found the typical beer cans (mostly Coors light and Chelada), numerous cigarette butts (seriously?), a filled (ew!) baby diaper, one-half of a plastic Easter egg, numerous plastic bags, various plastic car parts (headlight lenses, pieces of wind deflectors, taillight lenses, etc.), myriad bottles, including a few Sierra Nevada Summerfest, and other “fun” items.

The California Alps Cycling crew was joined this time by two folks from Sparks, NV: Henry and Bailey. They reached out to us after seeing our last blog post advertising the event. Chris (legacy member, Chris Schull) and I met them a couple months ago. We chatted a bit in town (Markleeville) as we were coming back from a ride and they were heading out. Henry and Bailey felt that it was important to give back to the community where they ride quite often and we can’t agree more. That’s one big reason we do it.

One of the other reasons we do it is to help keep our watersheds clean.

“As an interconnected system, an impact to any part of the watershed affects the rest of the system downstream.”

Did you know Alpine County includes the headwaters of five (5) watersheds?

Yup! The American, Carson, Mokelumne, Stanislaus and Truckee Rivers all get their start here and so it’s that much more important to prevent garbage and other nasties from getting into these rivers.

And, we aren’t the only ones that take this seriously. The Alpine Watershed Group does too. As their tagline reads, they are: “Working to preserve and enhance the natural system functions in Alpine County’s watersheds for future generations through collaboration, education, and proactively implementing stewardship projects.” We’ve donated to the AWG before and today we became a sustaining member. Perhaps you can help out, too? Just go to their website and donate, or volunteer, or both. They, and we, would love to have you!

Speaking of healthy watersheds…We have been frequented here at CA Alps Cycling HQ recently by an osprey! We saw it fly over town a couple days ago and then noticed it on Sunday, perched on a branch here, eating a snake.

“Our osprey” checking out the scene.

Was that a thank you? We’d like to think so.

Climb! the California Alps

For years, like many of my friends, I have been riding bikes. Mostly road bikes but I do some mountain biking as well and have been known to ride my wife’s hybrid as well – especially when I don’t want to gear up.

I’ve gotten to be a better rider over those years, mostly because I’ve lost some poundage but also due to the shear volume of riding, with the associated climbing that comes with living and riding in the California Alps.

I’ve found, though, like many of you I suspect, that I pretty much “just ride.” Yeah, I’ve used a heart rate monitor for years and I’ve been active my entire life, even when I weighed over 300 pounds, but I never really paid attention to the data and until about two (2) years ago I never had a power meter.

So, as I added my big events to the calendar this year, the first one being the Wildcat 125 in Chico next month, I decided I needed to do more to improve my climbing. An ad or an email, I can’t remember which, that I received earlier in the year touted a new book: “Climb!” by Selene Yeager and the editors of Bicycling. The sub-title reads: “conquer hills, get lean, and elevate every ride.” So I went ahead and bought the book and read it from cover to cover.

What an awesome book! It has several plans in Chapter 12 and I decided to do “The 8-Week My-Base-is-Built-So-Let’s-Roll! Hill-Climb Plan.” It’s a combination of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), steady-state intervals, endurance rides, easy rides, and rest days. In other words, exactly what I wasn’t doing! By the way, as it happens, just yesterday Selene posted a blog article on HIIT workouts. Click here to check it out.

Well, I’m in the middle of week 5 and it’s making a huge difference. My power is up, my endurance is up and I’ve learned some new skills as well. Because of the weather here in the Sierra over the last several weeks I’ve had to do many of the workouts inside but thanks to Zwift and FulGaz, and my smart-trainer, that hasn’t been a problem. Last Sunday I got outside for my first ride in awhile and I killed it! Extra poop on the climbs, lower heart-rate while generating more watts, and I PR’d my Max Avg. Power (20 min.)!

So, if you haven’t checked out the book, and if you want to be a better climber, I recommend that you do. It’s a good read with lots of nuggets, and no, I’m not getting paid a cent by Bicycling for this “review.”

And if you have any climbing tips for your fellow riders, comment on this post and share them.

Last but not least, I wanted to let you all know that you can FOLLOW US now on Twitter! @bikedalps is our handle and we’d love to have you join the conversation!

It’s Often Windy Here in the California Alps – Why is That?

As a San Jose native, I was very familiar with the wind patterns. I lived in South San Jose for many years and could plan my rides knowing pretty well how the wind would blow: Go out early and get the tailwind on the way home. Go out later in the afternoon and get the headwind on the way home. Certainly this did depend on the direction of my ride but for the most part I could easily predict the patterns.

So, what’s the deal here? Well, thanks to “A Sierra Club Naturlist’s Guide” by Stephen Whitney I’ve found some answers. 

Mountain winds: “Winds and breezes passing over a rugged mountain range such as the Sierra follow tortuous courses over and around ridges, up and down canyons, through gaps in the crest. Eddies set up by the irregular terrain blow here and there in vigorous gusts that rattle trees and shrubs one minute only to abruptly die down the next. In the protection of a large boulder or grove of trees there may be scarcely any wind at all, while just a few yards away, in a more exposed area, it howls furiously.”

Wind-driven clouds in the CA Alps

Okay, so that makes sense. It’s somewhat analogous to the flow of a river. Rocks = rapids. Eddies are often downstream of those big rocks and flat water can bee seen where there aren’t any big rocks to interrupt the water’s flow.

Let’s dive a little deeper, though. Why is it that I can head up Hwy. 4 (Ebbett’s Pass) with a headwind and then not get that tailwind on the way back? Okay, sometimes I do get the tailwind but it’s not consisent like it was in Silicon Valley. Well, Mr.Whitney has a bit more information in that regard. It’s about mountain breezes, valley breezes and the mountain ranges “intrusion” into the tropopause

“On a warm summer morning the air next to the ground surface is heated and rises. Cooler air nearby moves in to replace it and rises in turn. This movement is felt during the day as an upslope breeze.” Typically, he writes, this starts about three hours after sunrise and reaches its peak during the hottest hours of the day and then it tapers off again around dusk. This is a valley breeze.  “At night, cool air flows downslope, creating the mountain breeze.”

Dust off those cobwebs and cast your mind back (thanks Paul Sherwin) to those high school science days (daze?); here’s some additional data: “Wind speed increases over mountain crests and through canyons and passes because air – like any fluid – accelerates when forced through a narrow passage. As a volume of air moves upslope, it is increasingly squeezed between the mountains and the tropopause, the inversion layer acting as a lid on the lower atmosphere. Since the volume of air remains the same as it squeezes over the mountain crest, it becomes elongated.” Okay so that means it picks up speed. Makes sense. He goes on to write that “air forced to squeeze through a canyon or mountain pass is accelerated in much the same way.”

So, there we have it! Mountain winds, mountain breezes and valley breezes combined with the myriad canyons, crests, passes and that ol’ tropopause challenge those of us who cycle in the California Alps. It’s a rare day when we have no wind and due to the topography you can’t count on consistency. If you ride here then you, grasshopper, like I, need to learn to embrace the wind. 

Ride safe out there and let’s kick some passes asses!™ Even the windy ones…