Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Compleat Tour de Basement (Part 3): A Training Ride in Madison, Wisconsin

Blooming Capitol
photo by WisDoc, Creative Commons

At the Bright Dawn of the Age of Video, many of us began our Tour de Basement watching videotapes–remember them?–as more “scientific training” became the norm. No more Erik Zabel-like ideas of just riding and riding and riding. Thanks to Mr. Armstrong and his soon-to-be-celebrated coach, the idea became to train less but train better, maximizing effectiveness.

This idea was taken up as the first training videos hit the market. The most prolific producer of these videos is formerly-of-Maryland-and-now-Tuscon-based Coach Troy Jacobson, who is responsible for turning our indoor training sessions into a measure of how much we can endure since 1992. For the most part, his vast output consists of him standing around looking comfortable (or concerned) while he encourages a group of sweaty athletes on trainers to work that much harder as he guides them through a dedicated program, which will cover one of the disciplines of road cycling, such as sprinting or time trialing. His Spinervals videos have terrifying titles, including “Bending Crankarms,” “Suffer Fest,” “Have Mercy” and my favourite, “Time Trialapalooza,” the latter apparently being 80 minutes in length but feeling like several days.

Not content with haunting our basement thoughts, Coach Troy has extended his range of action to now include a series of virtual reality outdoor DVDs called “On the Road.” I have already reviewed his excellent Lake Placid ride but he has added to the scenery-with-pain series most recently with a ride along segments of the Madison, Wisconsin long course triathlon route. I have only been in Wisconsin once and was impressed by the size of the friendly people I met, none of whom looked much like triathletes, but I have also read that Madison is one of the most bike-friendly places in the United States.

There are some new twists to this video. In addition to the Coach Troy Cam and the Car Cam, we now have the O’Connor Cam, all giving different perspectives of the ride. For the first time, Coach Troy rides outdoors with other people and this gives some variety to the proceedings. With his very fit group of athletes assembled, Coach Troy leads us out onto the course.

Like all the Spinervals DVDs, this one is meant for pretty serious training. The background music is pretty well invisible so what you have is the course and Coach Troy’s detailed coaching comments. There are fairly unobtrusive indicators on the screen showing elapsed time, suggested gearing and exertion levels. If you don’t want to follow Coach Troy’s comments you can always turn off the sound.

Wisconsin State Capital
photo by Ryner12, Creative Commons

Never having been to Madison, I was expecting flat cornfields in all directions. The ride begins in a low-key way, along some busy streets and bike paths and through what appears to the be the enormous parking lot of a state fairground or something (I suspect it is the starting area of the triathlon). But soon enough Coach Troy and his merry band are out on the open road and you learn that while there are indeed a lot of cornfields there are also quite a few hills on the course. The rolling scenery, while less dramatic than Lake Placid’s, is still very pleasant and you will find the hills to be challenging. The riders ahead of you change position, and Coach Troy, with his South-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Line accent urges you on and on and on. And on. This DVD gives you three full hours on the road so no need to change DVDs during the workout.

More Bikes
photo by robbyb, Creative Commons

In addition to the ride itself, there are segments in which Coach Troy discusses preparation for a triathlon with one of the riders, and another segment which is basically an infomercial (albeit an interesting one) for Zipp wheels, which has become a sponsor of Coach Troy. Coach Troy must be happy about this since he even loosens up and lets a couple of “Yee-haws” out during the ride.

With the addition of the Madison DVD, Coach Troy now offers virtual reality training for a flat course, one with steep hills, an all-climbing course and now one with rollers. His coaching advice is clear and useful and the whole thing has a professional, non-nonsense feel to it. With some five dozen different DVDs to his name, it is clear that Coach Troy is doing things right and I would highly recommend his “On the Road” series. The scenery may be a bit prosaic but training to this DVD will definitely get you in shape to tackle any course you like.

To get an idea of the DVD, you can see some of it here:

Coach Troy's DVDs can be purchased on his website here or through retailers or elsewhere on-line. At $34.95 the Madison DVD is not inexpensive but given its length and the coaching instruction I would still consider it a good value. As well, Coach Troy has a lot of good training advice at this website, including video coaching.

Friday, 20 February 2009

And Look at Tom Tornado's Bike...

Of course, after that long video of Lance Armstrong's Madone road bike, a blogger who owns a Specialized Tarmac has to give equal time (somewhat less, I regret) to Tom Boonen's Specialized Transition. Tommeke will probably not be much of a factor in the Solvang time trial but at least he will look very cool. This is a wild rig with those goofy Roval wheels and while my next time trial bike will be rather cheap and utilitarian, one can still dream...

Look at Lance's Road Bike

Well, after two postings about the Most Famous Once-Missing Bicycle in America, I really had to follow up with this video taking a closer look at the bike Mr. Armstrong has actually been getting to ride:

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Lance's Bike is Back

Here's a happy ending: Lance Armstrong's time trial bike has been recovered. Apparently the thieves were clueless about what it was and tried to sell it for a pittance...

And I am happy to say that this is the 250th post I have put up on That didn't take very long!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Tour of California: Lance's bike be gone...

Come back, pretty bicycle!

Apparently Lance Armstrong's customized Trek time trial bike was stolen (along with three other Astana tt bikes) when the team's truck was broken into this weekend. Reflecting over the years, it is truly astonishing how many good racing bikes have been stolen: Paolo Bettini's World Championship Tarmac when 21 bikes were stolen from the Quick-Step van; all the bikes of the Canadian junior team at the World's in Stuttgart; 21 bikes from Team Barloworld...maybe they should just leave an angry Belgian mechanic in the trailer.

I am sure that the Trek people will work overtime to have another bike put together, although it may not have the special paint for this race. And I guess if you wanted to steal a bike this would be the one. Not that I would suggest doing this. Even if it would fit me. Which this one would.

I hope that everyone at Astana gets their bikes back and the thieves appropriately appalling punishment.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Go Canada! Svein Tuft at the Tour of California

Svein Tuft and his silver time trial medal
Photo by one-fat-man, Creative Commons

It has been an awful long time since Steve Bauer wore the yellow jersey for nine days straight and it is not often we get to cheer for Canadians in the pro peloton. There are presently four top-level pros, including Michael Barry, whose wife Dede's almond biscotti recipe remains a mainstay of my cooking repertoire. . But probably the most interesting of the four is British Columbia’s Svein Tuft, who is riding the Tour of California. He is 31 years old and considered a very late bloomer. Much of his early life seems to have been spent out of doors camping but at 21 he entered his first bike race. Within two years he was on the Canadian national team and subsequently spent four years racing as a pro before leaving, disheartened by the pervasive use of drugs in the sport.. He was then sought out by a Canadian team that believed in his abilities (and would let him disappear into the mountains all winter). They found him mowing lawns in 2004 and brought him on board.

Time trialling in Italy at the World Championships
Photo by one-fat-man, Creative Commons

In 2008 he won a silver medal at the World Championships in the time trial and was Top Ten at the Beijing Olympics. With the financial failure of his Canadian team, the way was clear for him to join Garmin-Slipstream. Besides the Tour of California, it is likely that he will be at the Tour de France this summer as well. An interesting story, so interesting that both and the New York Times and the Globe & Mail have run stories this last week about him.

Good luck, Svein, and I only wish I was in California for this race too.

Tour of California: A Different Point of View

View of the Stage 5 Route

The raffish folk at (makers of very chic cycling clothing the publishers of superior books and Rouleur magazine)went to California in January and their team of six not-quite-pro-but-still-very-good riders rode each stage of the Tour of California route. You will be able to preview each stage as every day Rapha will share its stories of the route. There will be great photos and video and lots of interesting stuff and I for one will follow this different perspective here.

To give you a little flavour of the kind of images Rapha is so good at, here is a little teaser video for the Tour of California route coverage. It must have been fun!

The Compleat Tour de Basement: Life is a Highway (Part 2)

It is still winter in Ottawa (no surprises there) but this week has been exceptionally mild so on Monday I took BlackAdder outside and we rolled off to work, a feat I have been able to duplicate each day so far until now. Of course with my commute only being around 9 kms return it will take a long time for the miles to add up! But the streets are still wet and there is a lot of slush (and even some ice) around so no opportunity for real on-the-road training. So the Tour de Basement continues...

In my ongoing efforts to bring you the best in training entertainment, here are three DVDs from VITA Digital Productions in North Carolina. The company specializes in filming foreign locations and providing stock footage. It has an impressively long list of DVDs, featuring scenery in many parts of the world. Some of these have a specific purpose: virtual walks in places such as the Cotswolds; treadmill and jogging programs; and, of greatest interest to followers of this blog, scenery for cycling.

At the moment the company offers four DVDs for cyclists and I have three of them.

1. Virtual Bike Ride in Maine’s Acadia National Park/Mt. Desert Island

Acadia National Park, established under the Administration of President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, is comprised of three islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine. The largest island, Mt. Desert Island, is 47 sq. miles and the town of Bar Harbor is located on the northeast corner of the island. This is the landscape featured in VITA Production’s DVD. Once the playground of the Rockefellers, who built miles of carriageways in the park, much of the region looks much the way it did when Samuel de Champlain saw it in 1604.

The View from Cadillac Mountain
photo by AudeVivere, Creative Commons

The ride begins at the peak of Cadillac Mountain (altitude 1528 feet (466 m) ASL). This mountain is the highest one within 25 miles of the coast of the Eastern United States and was once the site of a nice hotel, reached by cog railway. After the hotel burned down in 1895, the cog railway ended up at the celebrated Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. But you don’t need a cog railway since the road slopes down and you can enjoy a 15 minute descent. No matter how fast you are riding in the Tour de Basement, the group of cyclists on the DVD are still going to pass you on the downhill. No matter; the road looks very good and the scenery is splendid,
with wild, rocky vistas and water everywhere.

The next stretch of road takes the cyclist onto the park’s 26 mile (41 km) loop road. Sections of this road reminded me very much of the area I ride in, with dense green forest. There are pleasant sunny sections and some climbing and descending. Before you realize it you are pulling up to the carriage house at the park headquarters and your 60 minute ride is over.

One of the features I liked on this DVD (and on the other two) is that you move at a reasonable speed, apparently around 20 km/h (12 mph). This is a bit on the slow side but at least you don’t get the impression you are riding a motorcycle, and you have lots of time to look at the scenery. If you want to warm-up beforehand–or cool down afterwards--there is an additional 14 minute segment of Maine scenery. Like the remainder of the DVD this was originally shot in high-definition and the pictures are all very clear. There is some New Age music used for the extra segment but otherwise the DVD has no music, no soundtrack, no coaching. This is fine if you have your own program to follow and you can use your own music as well.

In summary, you have very nice scenery, an exceptionally clear image and an appropriate impression of speed. On the downside, at 60 minutes it is a bit short for a long workout, although the adding the additional 14 minutes at either (or both) ends of the ride adds some time. And it is all balanced nicely by the fact that it is one of the least expensive training DVDs I have found.

To see what the Mt. Desert Island ride looks like, you can see a sample here.

2. Connemara, Ireland

The second DVD from VITA that I have is a ride along in Connemara, an area of County Galway in Ireland, surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic. The ride begins with you cruising alongside Lough Corrib, the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland and a major tourism and fishing destination. It looks quite nice in the Tour de Basement but sometimes a virtual tour is better than the real one as the lake was severely contaminated in 2007 and residents of Galway had to boil all their water. Anyway, this is no factor for us and the ride continues gently along, through the green May scenery. There are birds singing. In fact, they sing an awful lot and while I like birds this is a bit grating eventually. I suspect a loop is being used since I recognized some of the songs! The road is quite fun as it appears to have been built by leprechauns–diving and turning and very, very narrow. After riding for about 10 minutes to the small town of Clifden, where everyone is going about their normal routine and you hear the murmur of voices around you. The Irish, incidentally, seem to park like the French and put their cars in any direction where they will fit.

Clifden town centre
Photo by Kevin Danks, Creative Commons

Clifden, founded only in the 19th Century, has two historic events to its credit: it was here that Marconi conducted his experiments in trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy and also was the town closest to Alcock and Brown’s rather sudden landing in a bog after their 1919 flight, the first non-stop trans-Atlantic one.

After passing the Clifden Town Hall, you get out of town on the Sky Road, which runs along the inlet of Clifden Bay and offers some excellent climbing and truly wonderful views. The scenery around the 43 minute mark is quite spectacular, and then there is a gentle ride back to Clifden.

Again, the photographic quality is excellent. The birds are a bit much, and sometimes it sounds as if the Irish are driving jet-propelled cars but at 62 minutes this is the longest of the three DVDs, and again priced at the same rate as the others.

Check out the Connemara DVD here.

3. Loch Etive, Scotland

Staying with the loch theme, this is a 59 minute ride along Loch Etive in western Scotland. It is springtime, and not only do we have birds again but there are some relentless sheep sounds too. This is a bit strange as in the DVD I did not actually notice all that many herds of sheep. The scenery is not dramatic, but very green and there are many wildflowers.

Loch Etive
photo by Jamie Campbell, Creative Commons

The Loch is 19 miles (31 kms) long and only just over a mile wide. Interestingly, it is home to a small colony of seals! We don’t see them, or any Lock Etive Monster for that matter, but just enjoy a pleasant and relaxing country ride. This DVD includes an 8 minute section of still photos and I must admit that Wayne Jacobs is an excellent photographer as many of these shots are truly beautiful

The Loch Etive DVD does not have the dramatic scenery of the other two and the cycling pace is definitely on the slower side. I would recommend it more for days when doing a recovery ride or perhaps easy spinning.

You can see an extract of the DVD here.

The VITA Digital Production DVDs are modest in nature as they do not promise to make you a better cyclist or offer a lot of extra features. It is up to you to make the most of them as they deliver exactly what they promise: beautiful scenery professionally filmed along the kinds of roads you would seek out if you were really there, and at bargain prices. And you can always turn down the virtual sheep noises.

VITA Digital Productions Virtual Bike Rides can ordered from their website here or from their E-Bay store. There is a fourth cycling DVD devoted to the Hollywood Hills in California but I am considering getting some of the walking or scenery DVDs of Italy simply because they look so nice!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

California, Land of Cars, Encourages Bike Commuters

In Northern California the local train service between San Jose and San Francisco is adding more space for cyclists on its cars. Capacity will rise to the point where some cars will have space for 40 bikes. This must be encouraging for commuters. When I used the trains in Germany, there was space for bicycles but the same area had fold-down seats if nobody needed the bike space. Now, if only all train services were as far-sights. Good on you, Caltrain! Read about it here.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The Compleat Tour de Basement: Life is a Highway (Part 1)

Tantalus Drive, Oahu
photo by Indichick7, Creative Commons

I read that East German coaches forced their cyclists to do their daily four hours of indoor training on rollers facing a plain brick wall, with no music or any diversion at all. This was supposed to focus their concentration and toughen them up. Perhaps this might have been acceptable for a regime that actually walled in its citizens to prevent them from leaving, but it sounds pretty nasty to me. Riding in the Tour de Basement is hard enough without being reminded you are actually in the basement. As I move into my February training program, the workouts are going to get harder and longer so having a diversion to take my mind off the pain and, yes, boredom, is vital.

Luckily, capitalism has provided an answer. Recognizing a growing market as cyclists most everywhere try to improve their performance, entrepreneurs understand that not all of us can zip off to California or Tucson or Lake Como for a training camp in the sun and have provided us with training DVDs that we can watch at home and turn the Tour de Basement into a virtual Tour de Somewhere. Of course, there are dedicated computer programs such as those from CompuRide and Tacx but these are complex and not inexpensive. For most of us our training system is a lot simpler: a trainer (or rollers) and a bike, with access to music or a television screen to drown out the noise of the bike and that giant fan blowing a headwind at us.

Training DVDs have been around for quite a while and for the most part they have consisted of video of people on trainers, sweating and straining as a cool and relaxed coach in a polo shirt urges them on. But most of us we can see sweating and straining cyclists simply by putting up a mirror: the only thing more boring than your own Tour de Basement is watching someone else’s. So some of us watch classic bike races on video, over and over, and pretend we are in the peloton, battling up Mt. Ventoux. But these are really sportscasts and not specifically meant for training so it is hard to sync your workout to them. So the idea to show scenery has now blossomed and an impressive range of videos has appeared in the last year that promise to make those training hours fly by as you sweat and strain in an exotic location. I wanted to share my experience and rate some of the DVDs now on the market. I still have around three months of indoor cycling to get through so I consider the DVDs an important training aid.

Global Ride Productions: StenDurance in Hawaii

Global Ride, the New Kid on the Training DVD Block, began as a spinning, pilates and yoga club in Pennsylvania. There was a realization that cyclists used to the road found indoor workouts barely tolerable, while many in the spinning community had no interest in going outside and facing the perils of traffic. The goal of bringing these two groups together has resulted in a series of DVDs that attempt to link interesting scenery and music with appropriate modern coaching and additional off-bike workouts. How successful is this?

The first series of DVDs covers rides in Hawaii and the one that I received, “StrenDurance,” is a compilation of three segments, featuring a long climb up Tantalus on Oahu, followed by a flattish stretch of coastal ride on Maui and ending with a series of charming rollers, also on Maui. The series begins with a segment of still images as you do your warm-up prior to the actual training. My first impression was that this was a bit long but I quickly realized that a) it allowed me to set my own warm-up rhythm and b) as I spun in my unfinished basement with the temperature at -29C outside I found that I was mesmerized by photos of lush, green Hawaii and actually looking forward to the rest of the DVD!

The Tantalus component, in which you are accompanying another cyclist, is a steady but not too steep climb that takes you above the city of Honolulu up the extinct cinder cone of this now-deceased volcano. Honolulu is actually built on the ashes of Tantalus. You continue up the steady climb, with occasional views of Diamond Head, until you approach the summit at 634 m (2014 feet) ASL. Coupled with the previous warm-up, this is a good start to the program.

The next section, which is coastal highway from Laihana, is actually not quite as interesting as not only is it flat but to your left is heavy traffic and on the right the sea so there is not a great deal to look at. But at least it feels warm (apparently the word “Laihana” is the Hawaiian phrase meaning “merciless sun!”) and the segment allows you to do some steady state/tempo riding. There are a few rollers at the end as you approach the next segment.

Kahakuloa Point, Maui
photo by Mastery of Maps, Creative Commons

This last segment, Maui Cliff Climbs, is simply fantastic. For those of us who believe that the only point to riding a bicycle is climbing, this is nothing less than paradise. You ride a whole series of hard hills, with amazingly varied scenery, along a beautifully-maintained asphalt road that is completely devoid of any other traffic. When this segment came to the end, I went straight back to the beginning of the chapter and rode it all over again. And yet again. One of my only complaints about this DVD is that at around 50 minutes for the cycling section it is short for those of us who have 90 to 120 minute workouts scheduled. Some of the other DVDs I have are of a similar length. On the other hand, you can just use the remote to extend things.

But, as they used to say on those frentic TV ads, Wait! There’s more! One of the very cool features of this DVD is that you can ride while listening to a coach–and not one coach, but you have a selection of three! You can choose Sally Edwards (representing the USA), Massimiliano Zambiasi (Italy) and Nicci Heath (Australia). These are all experienced coaches and on the voice tracks they are breathing pretty heavily so it is like they are suffering there with you. So on each ride you can pick which coach you want for that day. A nice feature.

And after the cycling segment there is a cooldown one where you can look at upcoming DVDs from Global Production (ah–Italia!) and this segment is then followed by something unique for a scenery DVD–you have to get off the bike and do a 30 minute strength training program with lightweight dumbells. This is led by a distressingly fit-looking coach who takes you through a rather challenging circuit. I think the addition of a cross-training segment is an excellent idea.

The music chosen for most of this DVD is by Andy Hunter, a British DJ, and is in the techno/trance mode, and is well-suited to the rhythms of the ride. It is commercial music and reflects well on the professionalism of the Global Ride producers. The other thing I was impressed by was that the screen is not cluttered up with many distractions, allowing you to enjoy the scenery as you pedal. And the pace of camera work is not far off of a racing bike’s speed. Well, perhaps faster than me...

As you can tell, I enjoyed the DVD very much. I think it is has terrific scenery, good music and excellent special features. I have already ordered the other two DVDs in the Hawaii series, which are extended versions of the coastal ride and more on Maui. After watching “StrenDurance” I am all set to pack my bags and ride those Maui cliff climbs, which is probably as good a recommendation as one can give!

The company promoted its product by taking it around to spinning studios and doing product demos. I have suggested that my local fitness club get the DVDs since our spinning room has black walls and nothing to look at. At least nobody is making me work out for four hours there...

To give you a sense of the DVD, here is a sample from the DVD showing some of the most challenging sections:

Global Ride Productions
"StrenDurance in Hawaii"
available directly from and other outlets
Price: $29.95 (or a boxed set of three DVDs for $74.99)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

More on Winter Biking

Frozen Bike
photo by Joasso, Creative Commons

Today I saw a nice on-line piece about cycling in winter in Canada. Apparently, a number of municipalities are promoting winter cycling as a transportation alternative and are doing things like clearing bikepaths of snow and promoting safe riding. The City of Toronto did a Bike Winter Festival recently, and has good tips and links on its website for winter cyclists. The enthusiast quoted in the article talks about how winter cycling is like cross-country skiing and mountain biking all in one. Of course, cycling in Toronto is tropical compared to Ottawa: I have not ridden recently due to the extreme cold and slushiness here but will probably start again later this week as I saw some cyclists out today.

Even though it was -20C as I walked in to work, I saw a flock of about twenty robins sitting on a snowbank near the river, pecking at the snow. I don't think I have ever seen robins so early in the year so perhaps Spring is really not far away!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Resolution Progess: February Report

A month ago I set out my New Year's Resolutions since I understand that putting them out in front of everyone encourages you to meet them. Of course we are still buried under snow to some extent here in Ottawa but I thought I should do a Progress Report and Reality Check on a monthly basis.

Resolution No. 5: Weigh 75 kg by June 1

I am surpassing expectations here. In mid-December, when I began to keep records seriously, I weighed in at a porky 82.6 kg. Yesterday I was at 77.2, a drop of 5.4 kg or just under 12 pounds in six weeks. I should have no problem getting rid of 2.2 kg (4.8 pounds) by June 1. But I really would like to drink more than one beer a week again.

Resolution No. 6: Learn to ski fearlessly around corners and down hills

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday I enjoyed my cross-country ski lessons at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility. The best part was Sunday where I discovered I could do snowplow turns even on the Frightening Big Hill. Amazingly, I did not fall down once. The right turns went superbly so now I just need to practice left-hand ones. Oh, and stopping. Next Saturday my 3 hour lesson will be "Help on Hills."

Resolution No. 7: Be able to do 101 pushups in a row, beating Groover

I am up to 25 pushups, done achingly slowly and with good form. This is pretty hard but I am seeing progress. The other parts of the strength training program are going well: from a miserable performance doing reverse chin-ups (a single one, actually), I had no difficulty doing 10 this morning. I am up at 5:00 am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to get to the gym for my strength training and have discovered I am now enjoying lifting weights and drawing up and redrafting workout programs. It might be Abs Year yet! On the other hand, the highly feminine Betty Betty may be picking up her newspaper in inappropriate night attire but she is racking up 270 pounds in her leg press workouts so I should just shut up about the abs for now.

Once the weather clears I can work on my other resolutions. I now have a new time trial frame (black and sinister) and a Louis Garneau skinsuit is on its way in preparation for the time trial season. 40 km/h: here I come!