How to tune a bicycle ride

Since a couple of years now I participate every august in a relay quarter triathlon in Deil, the Netherlands. One participant swims 1 km, then one participant does a bike ride of 42 km and finally the last participant runs 10 km. I always do the bike ride. My previous employer, Transfer Solutions, forms a couple of teams every year and they still invite me each year.

My time on the 42 km bike ride used to be about 1 hour and 18 or 19 minutes. It depends a bit on the wind, because the area around the track is completely flat. Nothing to stop even the tiniest gust of wind. Most people would consider my time pretty fast, but these are not the people that compete in the race. For example, some of my colleagues would do 42 km on a bike in 1 hour 15 or 16 minutes. And I’ve seen amateur triathlon athletes that do the 42 km in 1 hour and 5 minutes.

Me at the relay quarter triathlon in Deil, 2013.

Me at the relay quarter triathlon in Deil, the Netherlands, in 2013.

So why are these other guys (and some of the girls) faster than me? I came up a couple of hypothesis:

  • They’ve trained better than me.
  • I’m taller than them. I catch more wind.
  • They have aerodynamic helmets and wheels.
  • They have more expensive (lighter) bikes.

About the training: I’ve even been on two-week cycling holidays a short time before the ride, but there always was a limit to what I could accomplish.

So what to do? I’ve contemplated buying an expensive bicycle. But then I started thinking like a proper performance tuner. Buying expensive hardware to solve a performance issue, where have I heard that idea before? Oh yeah. At several projects I’ve been involved in at work.

So I thought “what would Cary Millsap do?” Well, I’m not sure if he has a bike, but he’d probably say I should not do something or do something less. Taking a shortcut is still not one of the options. But think about mass. The more mass I have to keep in motion, the more energy I need to put into that. So reducing mass is reducing things to do.

Replacing my current second-hand Jan Janssen Titanium bike (about 8 kg) by a more expensive, low weight bike (let’s call it a Cannondale Exadata) can reduce the total mass by let’s say 1-2 kgs. But when you think about it, there is a much cheaper way to reduce mass. By losing weight. My weight that is.

So I’ve actually thought about that. For years I was about 95 kg. It was around and over the upper limits of my Body Mass Index. By all means it was a healthy idea to reduce a few kgs. But as the many weight loss products and programs indicate, this is not just a rational decision. So I attacked this problem with an idea from Dan and Chip Heath’s book Switch. By stepping on the scales every day you get quick feedback on what works to lower your weight and what is not so good. It’s much more effective the latest diet craze. Here are a couple of my findings from this:

  • Eating relatively healthy food (salad with some bread), but a lot of it? Weight increased.
  • Burning 800 kcals during 1 hour of spinning, but then eating a lot because burning so much increased my hunger? Weight increased.
  • My favourite meal: steak with a mushroom sauce (with crème fraiche) and baked potatoes? Always weight increased.
  • The leftovers from the buffet of my birthday party I ate too much of, because I’ve paid for it and thought it shouldn’t go to waste? 2 kgs increased.
  • Drinking 500 ml of water before stepping on the scales? Weight increased with 0.5 kg. Duh! (But what does that tell you?)
  • Eating Hara hachi bu (until 80% full), even including tiramisu for dessert? Weight decreased.
  • Burning only 700 kcals during 1 hour of spinning, but eating less afterwards? Weight decreased.
  • Sometimes for seemingly no particular reason? Weight decreased.

You’ll see that when you get daily feedback on your weight, you’ll soon come across ways to reduce it. But sometimes I just have no idea why I suddenly weigh more or less the next morning.  (I should add that losing weight should not be a purpose on itself. Losing muscle tissue can also lead to weight loss, but not the one you want. When in doubt, check your physician.)

But did it work? Well, here are the results:

Year Time Conditions
2007 1:25:41 Pretty much untrained. Second time on a racing bike that was meant for someone 10 cm shorter than me.
2008  1:19:36 (PR!) After 2 weeks cycling in the Alps Maritimes.
2009 1:22:37 The chain fell of, which cost me 1.5 minutes to repair.
2010 1:18:23 (PR!) After 2 weeks cycling in Umbria, Italy (about 900 km in mountainous area)
2011 1:18:54 Last year before weight scheme (93+ kg).
2012 1:16:46 (PR!) After the new weight scheme (84 kg) and cycling holiday in France (1000 km in 2 weeks)
2013 1:16:18 (PR!) After the new weight scheme (85.3 kg) and moderate training. Also unusually low wind speeds.

(Just this week as I was writing this blogpost, Triathlon Deil started their new website and only kept data from 2011 and later. I was halfway retrieving the older data. Google cache helped me to retrieve all of it.)

So this scheme has brought my personal record down 2 minutes. A good 2.6% (in bicycle rides you can’t reduce time by 90% by avoiding full table scans). And I’m healthier. Something buying expensive hardware could not have done. Allthough I now still consider it of course.

About Marcel-Jan Krijgsman

Marcel-Jan is de PR-functionaris van de Werkgroep Maan en Planeten. Hij verzorgt ook het nieuws op de Facebook pagina en deze blog.
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1 Response to How to tune a bicycle ride

  1. Weight loss says:

    very interesting thread

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