Winter Shape

In the lead-up to the Christmas break, I thought I was in the best winter shape of my life.  An erratic autumn schedule and weather pattern had resulted in some clunky form, ongoing aches and pains, and the like.  But I put in some good hours on the bike from Thanksgiving until a few days before the 25th.  My shape was evident in the decent times I was doing, some stronger sessions on the indoor trainer when I had to use it, and most of all how I felt.  My quads, which had been aching more than usual since September, started aching less and putting out more hard power, and my stamina seemed to be better after long rides.  The one fly in the ointment was my weight, which hung in the 211 pound range.  I’d have preferred to see it more like 208.

Then came the Christmas break.  In Cheshire, CT, I usually don’t do many reps of anything but the Fork Lift (plate to mouth) or the Glass Raise (elevate, move to lips, tilt, repeat).  I often go with Henry when he walks Charlie rather briskly, but that’s about it.  After a few days of such blissful luxury my muscles and joints have definite reactions.  Some muscles cramp randomly.  Some joints ache, and when the ache is in the knee it sometimes extends down the shin. Random pains come and go.  My back and legs tighten, so that sudden movements can result in pulled muscles.  Several hours of relatively little movement in the car may exacerbate any of these.  And at the same time that all this is going on, I am gaining weight, despite my best efforts.  I know I’m in trouble when the bevy of post-holiday TV ads for weight reduction schemes leave me vaguely guilty and, worse, slightly interested.

This time our first couple of days back from Christmas in Connecticut were chilly and blustery.  I still feel able to cherry-pick my riding days pretty much, since we are getting recurrent warm spells.  So on Wednesday and Thursday I rode inside, especially since such a strategy would ease my body back into an active routine.  I chose to inspire myself by watching sports activity while riding, not DVD Tour de France but DVD baseball.  [It is the 5th game of the 2007 ALCS.  The Indians are up 3 games to 1 on the Sox.  Playing in Cleveland, they hope to clinch the series at home.  I remember telling an Indian-fan student at the time “you better hope they win it tonight, because they do not want to try to win it in Fenway Park.”  I watch now with sheer pleasure, knowing that as C. C. Sabathia takes the mound the Indians have won their last game of the season already, that they aren’t going to clinch it on any one of the next three game nights, that the Sox are about to begin a 7-game winning streak.  Summer fun for winter exercise.]

The power of exercise shows itself.  In 45-minute workouts on my two consecutive days, I hit almost exactly the same numbers for “distance” (10.1 miles) and calories burned (643).  But on Tuesday my average heart rate is 128 and on Wednesday it is 123.  Tuesday’s work conditioned my body to be significantly more efficient the next day.

But today I took the next step: the outdoor ride.  With weather in the high 40°s and a light southerly wind, I headed the Fuji out toward Herndon.  I was trying to take it calmly, but also to push myself a bit.  The cool but not bitter air felt good in my lungs, the sun was out enough to make its warmth evident.  By the time I cleared Vienna heading westward I heard the old siren call from Hunter Station Road.  I felt great; the weather felt great; I hadn’t attempted this steep climb in months.  So at the Hunter Mill Road crossing I veered slightly left, passed the small car park between Hunter Station and the Trail, and headed for the foot of the hill.  I noted with approval that the road had been resurfaced.  There’s enough to worry about on the climb without wondering if I’ll hit a pothole or a patch of loose pavement.  I didn’t exactly glide upward, but I wasn’t having to fight the surfacing.  It was exhilarating to make it to the top, even if I was lugging about 10 too many pounds on me, as well as 15 more on the heavy bike than I would have on the Trek.  My quads ached a little but were not burning; I was pushing the pace.  And going down Sunset Valley Road I hit 32 mph on my way back to the Trail.

The rest of the ride was a joy, and I am confident my shape made another quantum leap.  When things are going well, good form begets better form.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.


Brake Job

Brakes wear out eventually, and since my Trek hit the 6500 mile mark a couple of weeks back I was not too surprised to hear the rasp of metal on metal when I hit my left brake lever a couple of weeks ago.  Worn brakes are no joke; it doesn’t take long for the rims to get badly grooved by metal contact.  I like my wheels and am not looking for an excuse to upgrade, so my next logical step was to get replacement brake pads immediately.

Caliper brake on the Trek 2.1. Note the lettering on the shoes.

Replacing brake pads is about the easiest repair there is on a bike.  In theory.  And only slightly more difficult in practice.  Essentially it all boils down to removing the old pads, replacing them with the new ones, and aligning them relative to the wheel rim.  I’ve been doing it for years.  But I’ve never done it with the Shimano Tiagra brakes on this machine.  When I replaced the pads on the Bianca Squadra’s Compe II brakes, all the stores had for such old equipment were inferior generic replacement assemblies that included a new brake shoe; I could not get the pads alone to slip into the original slick black-painted shoes.

There are three different types of bicycle brakes, excluding the new-style disc brakes.  Racing and road bikes typically use caliper brakes, in which the unit is controlled by a wire on the right side of the assembly.  V-brakes are now pretty standard on mountain and hybrid bikes; the configuration allows for larger tires.  The same is true of cantilever brakes, whose old style configuration is harder to adjust.  The latter two brake styles almost universally have replacement parts that are a shoe/pad/bolt combination.  of these, the caliper brake is easiest to work with.  I just have to flip the quick-release lever to move the brake pads away from the rim for inspection or maintenance.  In theory at lest the pads can even be removed from the shoes without removing the shoes from the caliper assembly, because they are held in place with a retaining bolt.  Once the bolt is loosened the pads can be slid out of the shoes.

I bought two sets of Kool-Stop pads, on the theory that if the front brakes were shot the back

Kool-Stop brake pads. Front of top pad is to the right; front of bottom pad is to the left.

ones wouldn’t be far behind.  But my immediate task was to get the old shoes off the front.  I was surprised how pitted they were.  Ron, the Spokes Etc. mechanic, said that brake pads typically pick up stones, dirt, and other forms of grit that get temporarily attached to the wheel rim.  And that’s what happened with my right front pad.  It had a small but hard chunk of metal embedded in it!  This occasional flotsam, even if not embedded, pits the pads, making them more worn and less efficient.  The new pads’ only indentations are intentional, for compression and water/debris removal purposes.  They even have a little bit of “tail-in” over the last ¼” or so, which Ron says allows the pad to squeegie off a damp rim before it makes hard contact.  Apparently that wars off pretty fast, too.

No problems with the installation, and I’m now riding with silent, effective braking.  If only it were this easy with the Audi!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.