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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Counting down to STP

Seven days to go until the biggest physical challenge of my life.

When I decided in May to register for the Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (or "STP"), the idea of riding 200 miles over two days seemed like an impossible feat. Yes, I knew friends and co-workers who had done it.

But it was easy to come up with reasons why I might not get to the starting line:
  • Out of shape. I dislike routines, especially exercise.
  • Fear. Three years ago I had had surgery to fix a potentially life-threatening arrhythmia. What if something else went wrong during training?
  • Not enough time to train. The experts advise beginner cyclists to start training in February. I had just over two months to prepare, and two out-of-town trips planned.
  • My red Bianchi road bike, circa 1980s, may break down.
  • I don't know how to fix a flat tire on a bike.
  • I have no clue how to ride with clipless pedals.
  • I can't climb hills. Even gradual ones.
  • I don't have any riding buddies to train with.
  • I don't want to damage any sensitive parts.
You get the point.

But I'm very stubborn once I commit to anything. The past two months have been nothing short of a miracle, with lessons on every ride.

So at about 7 a.m. Saturday, I will set off on my red Bianchi, joining some 10,000 other cyclists on the journey from Seattle to Portland.

The organizers tell me that most participants will take two days to complete the ride. To finish in time, we'll have to cycle about 8 hours a day, keeping an average pace of 14 to 16 mph.

Okay, I'll try not to think about the fact that my average pace is not quite in the range.

The bike shop gurus tell me I need to pay closer attention to my cadence, or the number of revolutions of the crank per minute (rpm). The faster I pedal, the higher my rpm. But like everything in cycling, there are nuances.

Cycling coaches say the key to a smooth and efficient ride is finding the right cadence for yourself -- that is, turning the right gear at the right speed.

"So what rpm should I strive for?" I asked my bike shop gurus.

80 rpm or higher, they said.

Being a journalist, I sought and found confirmation from other sources, including this seemingly sardonic comment in The Cyclist's Training Manual:

"...non-cyclists tend to prefer a cadence of about 60 rpm, close to the number of paces they take when walking (emphasis added). In contrast, most experienced cyclists keep to a figure of at least 80 rpm, and often closer to 100 rpm."

Well, I certainly expect to move faster than a pedestrian. (Um, except on steep hills.)

My cycle computer isn't equipped to calculate my rpm, but it's easy enough to calculate by counting the number of times my right foot is at the bottom of the stroke during a 15-second interval, then multiplying by 4.

I've always rooted for the underdog, and I sure feel like one going into my first STP. I'll try to share some of my experiences on this blog through text and photos. I'm learning as I go. We all have to start somewhere.

So, STP, here I come -- at 80 rpm.

1 comment:

  1. cool blog. thanks for taking the time to post all this.