Saturday, June 23, 2012

What I Can Weigh if I Put Down the Government Cheese

The National Institute of Health has put together a really cool body weight simulator that takes your height, weight, calorie intake and level of activity, and then estimates your change in weight if you change the inputs. I entered in my stats a little over a month ago, and so far the projection is right on schedule.

Below is a projected one-year graph showing what my weight could be if, for the first three months, I gradually reduce my calorie intake to 2,500 per day and increase my exercise to bike an hour about 4 times a week; and then, for the second three months, I increase my calorie intake to 3,000 per day and throw in a 2-hour bike ride on weekends.

When I input my numbers on May 15, I was 214 pounds. As of this morning I was 210.8 pounds, and that's right about on schedule. If I stay on course -- and the NIH is right -- I should hit 200 in the first week of August, hit 190 by mid-September, 185 around my birthday in late October, and 180 by the beginning of February 2013. And if I keep biking and not pigging out, the gubmint thinks I'll level out somewhere around 175!

Frankly I'd be happy with 190, and 180 would be amazing. That's my Fightin' Weight, and I haven't been there in nearly 10 years. I'll keep checking my progress against the graph to see if those government bean counters actually know what they're talking about.

Pretty cool! Input your own numbers at

•     •     •

In other news, I rode over 82 miles this week! It's my longest distance ever! Note, however, that it's not my longest TimeOnBike ever -- I was on the bike for over 6 hours (74 miles) the week last month when I rode to Old Town and back.  The Bionx lets me go a little faster, so perhaps MilesOnBike is not the best metric. How about DaysOnBike? (5). CaloriesBurned? (4,360).  Either way, I'll take it.  :-)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Cheat with the Bionx

I made a big show last week about how the Bionx is not cheating. Having used it with various assist levels for about 80 miles now, I would like to clarify:

You can TOTALLY cheat on the Bionx, if you want to.  I've done it.  You see, in addition to the 4 levels of assist - which provide a torque boost of between 35% and 300% -- there is a little red button called the throttle. Press this, and the bike zips along at up to 20 mph without the need for any pedaling.

When I first got the Bionx, I wanted to really push the system and see how much assistance was possible. I donned my heart rate monitor, put on my work clothes, and endeavored to get to work with as little perspiration as possible.  Along the way, I kept my finger on the throttle button pretty much the whole way, pedaling (on the highest assist level) perhaps 5-10% of the time.

It normally takes me almost an hour to bike the 13 miles to work, with an average heart rate of around 140.  This time it took 45 minutes. My average heart rate was 87 -- I didn't even get into "Zone 1". And I felt like a total schmuck.

For all my big talk about not cheating, holding the throttle most of the way TOTALLY feels like cheating. I didn't break a sweat! I was a lazy bum on my commuter bike and I didn't get a workout at all!

The entire Asian world sees biking mainly as a mode of transportation. There are 100 million e-bikes in China! But we Americans tend to always equate bikes with exercising, and we have this ingrained belief that if we don't sweat, it's cheating. Intellectually, I know this is silly. Biking doesn't HAVE to be exercising, and throttling to work is not "cheating" because there are no rules. I just want to get to work.

I know this. I have argued this. But even I don't really, truly believe it. I don't know if this is a testament to the power of cultural bias or what, but when I'm using my bike as a moped and getting to work without sweat, I don't feel good or smug or anything like that. I feel like an asshole.

So I will endeavor to NOT just keep my thumb on the throttle. It is totally possible to get a great workout in with the Bionx, and in fact on Saturday I did just that: a 30 mile ride in 90 degree weather, with an average heart rate of 150 over two hours! For the flats and downhills, I kept the assist on the bare minimum and hardly ever throttled, and only turned the assist up on the inclines of over 2% or so. And even with that assist, when the incline got close to 5%, I got a real workout – my max HR was 173! The only difference between hills with assist and hills without assist is that I can actually DO the hills with assist, as opposed to getting off and pushing (which is what I used to do).

And it’s still really nice to know that even when it’s hot and I’ve been riding for hours and the only way home is 7 miles uphill, it will never suck. It will always be fun, and invigorating, and in many ways, kind of magical. Here are some pictures from Saturday's ride:

Iwo Jima Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Gay Pride Parade in Dupont Circle

Monday, June 04, 2012

Why the Bionx Pedal-Assist is Not Cheating

This weekend I installed a Bionx PL-350 system on my trusty Trek 7100. It was a hefty investment, but it's worth it because now I can ride anywhere in the city, sweating as much or as little as I want, hills be damned! Why, just yesterday I rode to the National Shrine, to a cafe, and back home - 16 miles of undulating hills that, unassisted, would have killed me and left me exhausted. But with the Bionx on a high level of assist, I rode to church in my Sunday best without getting sweaty, and afterward I turned the assist down and got a pretty solid workout coming home. I was exhilarated and dripping with perspiration by the time I got home, but I wasn't WIPED OUT, like I would have been normally. The Bionx gives me the freedom to ride where I otherwise wouldn't. Without assist, I would not have attempted Sunday's ride; I simply would have driven.

When people find out I bought an electric pedal assist for my bike, there are two common responses.

Average Joe: Cool! I've heard about those. Sounds fun.
Cyclist: THAT'S CHEATING. You're such a cheater, Mister Cheater.

My standard response to Average Joe is "Yeah, it is fun! Really helps with the hills." We both walk away smiling and I am left with the thought that there are lots of friendly people in this world.

Then comes the Cyclist. He is usually very skinny, owns thousands of dollars in Lycra and Spandex, and has a 15-pound bike made of carbon fiber infused with Borg nanobots. And he is looking at me with derision I have previously only seen directed at people who stand to the left on the Metro escalators.

To the Cyclist, biking and sweating are synonymous. He enjoys nothing more than the long haul, dripping, drenched, standing on the pedals and pumping harder. The downhill is your reward for making it uphill. Hills build character. Stop whining. Cheater.

I have developed a few responses to this particular breed of judgmental creature. Each responses satisfies me, but is very unlikely to satisfy the Cyclist.

Cyclist: That's cheating.
Me: ...I wasn't aware there were rules?

I thought this sort of rhetorical response would make them pause and think and realize that, of course, outside of a race, biking has no rules. Cheating is by definition impossible without rules to break. I expected smiles all around, the Cyclist perhaps asking if he could try my Bionx, and then maybe we would all go out for drinks and we would sing drinking songs about our glorious rides past.

Yes, I live in a fantasy land.

Cyclist: Of course there are rules. You have to pedal.
Me: I do pedal! I just use assist on the hills so I can get up them.
Cyclist: Just shift to a lower gear. Hills will get easier.
Me: I have used the granny gears. I don't particularly like getting up a hill at 4 mph and still feeling totally burned out at the top. I don't see what the big deal is?
Cyclist (look of disgust): YOU'RE CHEATING.

So, given that the Cyclist abhors cheaters, and likes to do everything the old fashioned way, with sweat and tears and sore muscles, I change my approach.

Cyclist: That's cheating.
Me: How heavy is your bike?
Cyclist: About 20 pounds.
Me: That's cheating! Mine is 33!
Cyclist: Whatever, I'm still pedaling.
Me: I'm pedaling too. Do you have a road bike?
Cyclist: Of course.
Me: That's cheating! Your tires are so skinny! It's so much easier to go fast on your bike. I have a hybrid!
Cyclist: I'm still pedaling.
Me: So am I. Do you use wicking fabric?
Cyclist: ...yes.
Me: That's cheating! I ride around in a cotton shirt! You're giving yourself all these advantages!
Cyclist: Whatever, I'm still pedaling. Cheater. You are the lowest of the low. Get off my path.

Apparently, every advantage in the book - feather-light materials, skinny tires, racing geometry - why that's just part of the sport! But a pedal-assist on hills? Cheating!

There is nothing one can say to calm the haters. So most times I don't even try. I just smile, bow to their "superior" stamina and character, and let them zoom away. And then I get on my bike and dial in the exact level of assistance that will let me achieve whatever goal I have at the moment. Do I want to get to work in a hurry yet not have to take a shower when I get there? Push the assist up to maximum and make heavy use of the Throttle button. Do I want to get a great workout on the way home? Keep assist on level 0 (nothing), or 1 (equivalent to a nice tailwind), and power up those hills.

That's not cheating. That's smart.

Friday, June 01, 2012

On Hills

I want to talk about hills.

It turns out I have been doing them all wrong.

There’s this major hill by my house, and it’s great because the long 4.6% decline on the way to work gets me up to over 25 mph and is super awesome. It’s a great way to start the day and make my way the 13 miles to work.

Perceptive readers already know what’s coming next: Returning home is murderous. I have never been able to get all the way back up the 4.6% incline without getting off and pushing. Even on the walk-and-push section, my pulse approaches 170 and it Ruins My Day.

I love riding my bike on the flats, and on the declines, and even on the slight inclines. But over 4 percent is just too much for me – or so I thought. After extensive research on The bike forum on the Internet, I realized I’m probably in too high a gear. Apparently that’s a common problem for beginners – we think we need to pedal hard to get up a hill. That’s only partially right. What’s more important is pedaling fast – in a lower gear.

Could I make it up the giant hill that had always bested me? It was time to find out. This massive hill comes after a deep valley of sorts, so there’s always a steep downhill portion that precedes it. On the downhill, I pumped as hard as I could in my highest gear, trying to build enough momentum to take me mostly up the other side.

Gravity soon began to slow me, and I turned the left handlebar gear to “1” and began spinning.  My right handlebar gear was on 7… too hard… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2…

Gah! Chain is not staying! Something’s going wrong! Bike is trying to shift but can’t!

Okay, turn it back to 1-3. Chain is secure. I can do this. Spin spin spin.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever, I actually made it all the way up that hill without getting off to push. My pulse was 160 and I was going less than six miles an hour and it SUCKED, but I was doing it. After riding at speeds averaging around 7 mph for the next tenth of a mile, I made it over the top, and from then on out, things got better. I hit 25 mph on the next 4 percent decline, and it was awesome.

But a half mile later, I still couldn’t ride through my apartment complex parking lot to my building at the back – which is, of course, at the top of another massive hill. I was just too tired.

In conclusion! Three truths:

  1. I can do hills with a 4 percent incline if I shift to the granny gears. I just have to resign myself to going 6 mph.
  2. Just because I can do them doesn’t mean I have to like it. Hills SUCK even if I am in the granny gears. And I’m pretty much done for the day after a hill that’s just a couple blocks long.
  3. The Bionx is looking more and more tempting each day…

Have I foreshadowed enough?

Join us next time.