Bike Party and the Stupidity of Crowds

Tonight, I had the pleasure of attending the 90s Dance Party Ride, the February ride organized by East Bay Bike Party.  This is the first Bike Party ride I’ve attended since I moved to Oakland, and, to be honest, I wasn’t a frequent rider at its South Bay sister, though South Bay Bike Party did sponsor a number of events that were incredibly helpful to my training in 2009.

There’s so much I want to like about the Bike Party concept.  Large, visible rides…even those that slightly inconvenience automobile traffic…are a critical aspect of bicycle awareness.  Bike Party achieves these rides without resorting to the aggressive “biketivism” that has become associated with Critical Mass.  Rather than being out to change the world, Bike Party is out to have a party.  I think there’s a great demonstration made in a bunch of cyclists (who have a right to the road) getting out, going on a ride like they belong there, and using various public and semi-public places to stage short parties.  I think it not only emboldens cyclists to take the road and to remember that public spaces belong to them, it also sends a message to those who watch Bike Party that you don’t need permission to organize, move, and assemble.  These are noble goals in social consciousness and they center around promoting a mode of transport that more people should adopt.

So, why am I not out there every month?  Well, it’s because somehow Bike Party attracts a kind of stupidity that I can only consider to be a little dangerous, and it always leaves me feeling a bit ambivalent.  Every Bike Party ride I’ve ever attended has seen some good contenders for a Darwin Award.  On one occasion, it was someone showing off his bike’s suspension by seeing how long he could ride in the middle of the Caltrain tracks (answer– 30 yards before flipping).  On another, it was someone trying to grab a lost bike chain off the ground…while in motion…while turning left…in a busy intersection.  On another, it was a fixie rider blowing through a stop sign.  Tonight was a particularly spectacular case because it involved bad ideas from multiple parties.

The first player in this ballet of bad ideas was actually a duo.  Someone had rigged a long-base trailer to his bike, but instead of hauling cargo on it, he was hauling a passenger.  I actually thought it was kinda clever at first…seeing some guy sitting down backwards on a bike trailer.  I hadn’t considered that being physically unprotected only inches from the road might be a bad idea.  Like a chemical reaction screaming for a catalyst, the bike and passenger were themselves perfectly fine and safe on their own.  But, of course, this is Bike Party.  Ask, and you shall receive…

And, in fact, someone came tearing down the oncoming traffic lane on his BMX bike, attempted to pull a tight turn into the moving pack of bikes, and crashed sideways into the bike right at its trailer hitch.  The riders of both bikes took nasty spills, as did the trailer passenger.  The trailer’s frame cracked apart from the stress of the impact.  The instigator of the crash (the guy on the BMX bike) was trying to play this off as “shit happens,” and the guy on the trailer bike was having none of that.  Things were close to coming to blows.  I helped the trailer passenger to the side of the road and tried to find out his condition, but he was strangely slow and confused in his responses.  I don’t suspect a head injury, because I’d yelled to him several times while he was on the bike and was also not responsive.  So, honestly, I suspect he was either very drunk or very high.  I also suspect the BMX rider might not have been wholly sober, but I base that only on reckless behavior and the tendency of many Bike Party riders to have a beer before they hit the road.

This makes me really wonder about the effect of a crowd and a seemingly liberated environment on people.  Part of the group ride experience is the sense that you’re in a pack of bikes large enough that you can feel safe and even feel empowered on the streets.  One bike has to dodge cars.  Twenty bikes is something for the car to deal with instead.  And so, despite the fact that Bike Party posts, and desperately tries to enforce, rules for a safe ride, I see them casually broken.  Bikes filling all the lanes.  Bikes in oncoming lanes.  Bikes running through lights.  Texting while riding.  Drinking while riding.  Riding drunk.  Riding high.  Riding dangerous or with dangerous equipment.  Pulling tricks in traffic or crowds.  I’ve seen all these things, and I’ve been at a total of four Bike Party rides.  The power of festival is that it suspends the rules temporarily, letting people explore an environment from a new, and sometimes forbidden, perspective.  But some of those rules exist so that you don’t break your ribs, and sadly, in these leaderless or semi-leaderless festival spaces, the poor choices of some end up injuring others or breaking property.

Worse than the sense of safety and liberation is likely the “he did it first” mentality.  You see this sort of thing often at red lights.  Rather than wait through a red light, someone plows through it and safely crosses.  This causes some others to try, and since they’re now in the intersection, several more people will believe they’re “running blocking” for them and also go.  Soon, an entire pack is crossing against the light because it becomes less safe to stop in the middle of the pack than to cross against the light.  In this way, bad thinking spreads until a much larger group is now doing it.

What’s unfortunate is that there is no effective solution to this problem.  The “leaders” of a Bike Party can’t really sanction anyone.  They desperately encourage others to be responsible and follow the rules of the road, but they aren’t listened to.  This isn’t a formal group…it’s just a spontaneous gathering of people…and so there’s no way that anyone can do anything about bad behavior other than to take matters in their own hands.  This property of spontaneously arising rather than being organized is simultaneously the group’s biggest strength and its biggest weakness.

And, indeed, this is a metaphor that can be applied to groups with roughly similar structures.  This includes Anonymous and Occupy Oakland.

AIDS/LifeCycle: Advice From a Veteran

It’s the time of year when mad cyclists turn their eyes to San Francisco, where they will begin the week-long challenge known as AIDS/LifeCycle.  For personal reasons, I opted to take this year off from the ride, though I am giving very serious consideration to returning to it next year.  My friend, Erin “Blast” Coplan, will be stepping into the saddle soon, though, and while I know she’ll be a total champ out on the ride, I wanted to pass along some things that I learned from my ALC ride last year…stuff I wish I’d known on day one because it would have meant a more comfortable trip.  With that in mind, Blast, here’s some little things to keep in mind as you make your final preparations, and please remember some of this for the road!

  • If you read nothing else, please read this– Have a recovery plan and execute it the moment you rack your bike. This was, ultimately, my biggest mistake.  I would get off my bike, drink some hydration formula, and then promise myself to have a snack after my tent was pitched.  That’s not a recovery plan.  You’ve got an hour, once you’re off your bike, to pump protein back into your body and start repairing your fatigued muscles.  You must do this.  Failure to do this will make progressive fatigue set in, and come the latter half of the ride, you’ll be digging yourself out of a hole.  Keep a packet of recovery drink mix on you.  Don’t wait for gear check.  Don’t wait to pitch your tent.  Don’t wait for a shower first.  Start recovery immediately after racking your bike.
  • Chamois cream is your friend.  Use it religiously.  Put some on when you start each day and add a little more at each rest area.  Yes, it’s goopy and slick and it can make your chamois feel goopy and slick, but it beats the alternative, which is getting a sore.  This happened to me.  I thought I didn’t need chamois cream because, in all the century rides I’d done, I’d never had a problem.  Even well-fitting shorts and a good chamois aren’t always enough.  All it took was one seam pinching some damp skin and I earned a sore I had to treat all week.  If I’d simply used chamois cream from the beginning, I wouldn’t have had this problem to manage.
  • Riders put a lot of effort into being ready to go up hills.  Please be really mindful of how you go down hills.  You don’t hear very much about people having serious injury crashes on an uphill.  ALC has some fairly steep descents in it, and while they’re fun, don’t be afraid to feather your brakes and stay within a safe operating speed for you.  It takes only one bad crack in the pavement or one swerve to avoid something and now you’re falling down a hill at 30 mph.  Going fast is fun, but if you’re going faster than you know how to handle, you’re taking a risk.
  • You’ll start Day 1 riding through San Francisco.  San Francisco is often very foggy in the morning, and you’ll also be doing a bit of climbing in the city, putting you up in what can be potentially thick fog.  At this point in the day, the pack of riders will not have had a chance to thin out.  Keep a little extra distance between you and other riders, because hazards can come popping out of the fog.  If it’s foggy, watch out for water beading up on your eyeglasses, because it will mess with your vision.  Take it easy…day 1 is a pretty long one.  Save yourself for the climbs on the way to Santa Cruz.
  • The Clif Shot Blocks in the blue pouches have caffeine in them.  This is important to know because the coffee at camp is famously weak.  Caffeine is an utterly magic thing to have on long rides, especially early in the day.  Not only does it give you alertness, but it’s mood-elevating and helps hide those casual aches and pains.  Get yourself a good little hoard of those caffeinated Shot Blocks, because they’re powerful medicine and will disappear later in the week when other people start hoarding them.  Also, unless you want to blow a night’s sleep, don’t eat them in the afternoon.
  • Figure out a good daily rhythm with your tent-mate.  I, personally, wanted to hit the trail very early every morning, so my tent-mate and I had a rule.  I would pitch the tent and he’d strike the tent.  This was a great arrangement for both of us because it meant that, at the point in the day when we’d need it the most, the other one would be taking care of the tent.
  • Take it easy on yourself for an hour after lunch.  You don’t have to sit around at the lunch break for a full hour, but do remember that digesting solid food redirects your bloodflow to your stomach and you’ll have less energy for pedaling.
  • For the love of all that is holy, sunscreen your lips!  Put fresh sunblock on at every rest area, even if it’s not all that sunny.  You do not want to be one of those people at the end of the week…your swollen and zinc oxide covered lips making you look like some incredibly sad, spandex-clad clown.
  • The easiest way I know to insure you ride just below your comfort zone– keep riding until you find someone that you’re just barely overtaking.  Ride behind that person.  You’ll make a new friend and you’ll ride just a bit slower than you naturally would, so you’ll have energy left over for climbs and wind gusts.
  • Day Two is not only a long ride.  It’s also a hot ride and it can be windy enough to require you to set a slower pace.  You’ll be between rest areas for longer and doing a fair amount of work.  Make sure you keep your water bottles topped up and make sure to use them heavily, even if that means stopping.  If you go to the medical tent suffering from heat exposure, you may end up losing a day on the ride while they rehydrate you.  Keep liquids in your body and pay close attention to this on days where you’re inland.
  • Two things about hills.  Thing one… Quadbuster and the Evil Twins are the “legendary hills,” but pretty much every day will have a climb that will make you question your choice in hobbies.  Personally, I thought the worst climbs of the ride were actually on Day Five.  They’re not long, but they become suddenly steep and you’ll already be shagged out from the Evil Twins the day before.  Thing two… When you look up at these hills, and you see the road turning up ahead, don’t get all excited and tell yourself that the top of the hill must be up ahead.  You’re on the hill until you’re through with it.  Dial in your climbing gear (I’m not too proud to say that I climb on a “granny gear”), get in a pace you could hold indefinitely, and go with it.  You’ll still finish the day, and you still get to feel like a badass when you finish the hill.
  • While I’m mentioning Day Five, it was the most challenging day for me.  The trail map makes it look like everything’s pretty easy-peasy after lunch, but that’s when the winds started.  Relax, don’t let yourself get down, take it easy, use your rest areas, and just focus on putting miles behind you.  You’ll get to camp.  Just don’t get caught up in the wind and the terrain.
  • I never understood the value of a good massage until I was on ALC.  One of my knees had its ACL replaced some years ago, and I discovered that many days of riding can make that knee feel a little “tweaky,” most likely because the the small muscles around the knee get sore.  Getting a massage on that leg was like erasing a day’s fatigue.  Camp will give you a free massage; use it.  You can probably buy one when you pass through Bradley, so bring money.  You can probably get another one in Santa Barbara.  They’re all worth taking time off the ride to get.  Something will be in danger of becoming chronically sore, and the trick to ALC is prevention.
  • There are a lot of opportunities to socialize at night, but remember that your first job is getting a full night’s sleep.  Day over day, you can’t ride tired.  I’m probably a fairly extreme case, but I was in bed at roughly 7:00 PM every night.  Waking up before dawn, having had a full night’s sleep, is an amazingly refreshing thing.
  • Start the day with a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and then keep using it through the day.  Don’t wait until you’re sore.  They’re anti-inflammatory drugs.  Stay ahead of the inflammation and you stay ahead of both pain and damage.
  • Keep supplies on you to replace both of your tubes at any point.  Otherwise, you may end up getting sagged.
  • If you do get sagged, remember that it happens to everyone.  We all pull something, break something, or overdo it.  Discretion really is the better part of valor, and it’s always better to ride another day than to not.
  • Remember that, no matter what happens on the ride, you’re out there because you’re a hero.  This ride is your celebration, not your burden, so go out there and enjoy it.

I guess that’s about it.  If this is Blast reading this, then good luck and may the wind be at your back.  If you’re not Blast, why not consider contributing to her ride?

AIDS/Lifecycle Part 2a: Endurance Training, Your Eternal Companion

So, you’ve been out riding your bike and building up good experience, yes?  Well, let’s start talking about putting some structure to your training.  Hopefully, this post is going to be pretty short because it turns out that endurance training isn’t all that hard.

So, I’m riding.  How do I do the kind of riding that gets me ready for AIDS/Lifecycle?

AIDS/Lifecycle is an event that rewards persistence more than anything else.  You need to be able to prosecute 60-110 mile rides every day for a week.  In order to do this, you’re going to focus most of your training on being able to make these long, persistent hauls.  While this is going to also make you a faster rider, the bulk of your training is not going to focus on your speed.  What’s far more important is that you focus on your ability to consistently execute your rides day after day.  Fortunately for you, your body is likely going to be able to handle this, because it turns out that our bodies are built for persistence.  Every metabolic aspect of our bodies, right down to the fact that we sweat, is designed around our ability to maintain specific paces for very, very long periods of time.

There’s an old adage from boxing — “Train as you intend to fight.”  AIDS/Lifecycle is about the day-over-day challenge of putting out consistent efforts.  Your training plan is going to be the same.  You’re going to ride at fixed paces for long periods of time.  This is often referred to as “base building” or “aerobic training” or, as I prefer to call it, “endurance training.”

I’m going out every day already and I’m pushing myself to ride as fast as I can and I make myself sore.  Surely, I’m going to be ready.

Well, maybe, but you may actually be training the wrong thing and you may be making things harder on yourself.  Let’s pull back a little bit and talk about what’s going on in cycling.  Cycling, as a sport, is something very different from running or swimming or weight lifting.  A bicycle is a vehicle without an engine.  The pedals are basically points where you attach a two-piston engine– you.  All of your training, therefore, is about turning your body into a highly effective engine suitable for the task ahead.  In the case of AIDS/Lifecycle, you need to be something like a big rig’s diesel engine rather than a sports car’s.  You want to be able to be reliable and consistent over many miles and changing conditions, even if it means you don’t have the greatest acceleration curve in the world.  This isn’t to say you can’t train both of these aspects, but your time is going to be limited and AIDS/Lifecycle isn’t a race, so training for bursts of speed and quick acceleration is training skills that you won’t necessarily need to depend on.

So, what’s going on in that engine block of a body?  Basically, your body has two different motors available, expressed in terms of the metabolic chemistry going on in them.  You have the stable-running diesel motor of aerobic metabolism, which converts oxygen and fat into a pretty stable and constant supply of energy, and you have the sprint car motor of anaerobic metabolism, which converts sugars quickly into a large supply of energy…but which also produces waste products that make it unsuitable as an energy supply in the long run.  This is a vast generalization, but it suffices for practical purposes.  Also, while I’m talking about “energy,” I am not talking about your own sense of vigor.  I’m talking about it the way it’s used in physics– pushing at a certain force through a certain distance in a certain amount of time.  This is purely mechanical energy.

Anyway, if you’ve ever lifted a heavy weight or tried to sprint or to chase someone on your bike, you know that burning feeling in your muscles.  That’s your anaerobic metabolism.  It gives you bursts of speed, but it won’t last long.  It’s very important to train this if you want to race.  It’s of modest help when you want to tour, however.  It may help get you up a hill sooner, or it may mean you don’t have to slow down in gusts of wind, but that’s about it.

So, stop training to go fast, if that’s what you’re doing.  Focus on persistent riding and on extending your distance.

Okay, then, smart guy.  How do I do endurance training?

Endurance training is actually very easy to do.  The muscle fibers which do most of your aerobic work have a very strong blood supply to ensure they have enough oxygen to do their job.  There will be some aspect of developing your muscles in this process (and, as I’ll discuss in a future article, your anaerobic metabolism is a necessary support of your aerobic metabolism), but most of what you will be doing is training your heart and lungs to improve your supply of oxygen to these muscles.  As simple as the “train as you intend to fight” maxim is, that’s what we’ll be doing here.

I highly, highly recommend a stationary bike to get started.  If you don’t have access to one, then at least try to get your bike out somewhere where you can ride long distances without stopping.  Also, try to find flat terrain.  Now, spin the pedals free and easy for the first five minutes.  Ride how you want.  Don’t push yourself at all…in fact, consider doing the opposite of pushing yourself.  You’re just warming up.  Aerobic metabolism actually takes time to kick in fully as your body responds to the increased demand and gets the blood flowing.  Once you have warmed yourself up, what you do next is going to depend on the tools at your disposal.

If you have a tool for measuring your pedal rpm, as is common on most stationary bikes and on bicycle computers, then drop into a low gear or drop the resistance way down.  Spin the pedals at 90-110 rpm.  Find a cadence that’s comfortable for you.  Once you have done this, gradually start bringing the resistance or gearing back up.  Add a little bit of resistance and then give your body a few minutes to adjust.  Add a little more in a few more minutes.  If, at any point, you find yourself panting or feel like your legs are burning, back the resistance off a little.  The goal here is to find a sweet spot where you’re holding solid at your comfortable fast cadence, where your legs are not progressively wearing down in a few minutes, and where your breathing is elevated but still so relaxed that you could easily sing or hold a conversation with someone.  You are not trying to make yourself into a panting wreck.  Think about that reliable diesel engine…you’re trying to be one of those.  With a little work and tuning, you’ll find your sweet spot.  Once you do, keep that level of output for the course of your workout.  Get your music out, flip on the game, play your PSP…whatever you’ve got to do, but settle in for the long haul.  In my estimation, “the long haul” is a minimum of 30 minutes.  I generally do an hour at a time and I sometimes do much longer.

If you don’t have a tool for measuring rpm, then drop to your lowest gear and find a cadence that’s fast but not uncomfortably so.  Gradually add in resistance as above.  You should keep the pedal strokes quick and you should try to avoid a tension level where you really feel the pedals pushing back.  Get to a pace where your breathing is slightly elevated but where you could hold a conversation without obviously panting.

If you’re not used to this sort of training, you’ll find upper caps on how long you can do this.  The goal is to reach a point where you could practically do it indefinitely.  Also, try to do this fairly often.  Three times a week seems to work well for many people, particularly if they’re doing other activities on top of that.  I generally make sure I have an hour in the saddle five days out of the week, either through my commute or through the gym.  It may take a while for you to really get the persistence to go for long periods of time, but this is the single most important aspect of your training.

But I’m not going fast.

Yes, but for AIDS/Lifecycle, you need to go all day, regardless of how fast you go.  You’re still early in the training, too.  Don’t look at your speed.  Look at your cadence.

What is this achieving?

A number of things.  First off, there’s some pretty good science to show that 90-110 rpm is an optimal cadence for cyclists.  This is teaching you to have muscle memory for that cadence, which will be VERY handy to you in the future.  It’ll give your mind a sense for when something’s holding you back.  You’ll know your cadence is dropping before you start panting or getting sore legs.  The second thing is that this is giving you practice for the long days in the saddle ahead of you.  With time, you’ll develop your riding mentality, which will help with boredom and anxiety.  Third, this is training your body for the ride ahead of you.  Remember…you’re riding all day for seven days.  Starting now on riding as long as your schedule allows and as many days as possible is going to get your body into adapting to this as your way of life.  Finally, this is a great way to burn off excess calories in your diet.  In an hour of aerobic training, I burn 700 calories, which is 33% of the daily caloric intake for someone of my size.  This really helps resolve out the fluctuations and indulgences in my diet.

Anything else?

Yeah.  Be persistent and try to fit as much in your schedule as you and your body can, but don’t push it.  You need your recovery days to allow your body to adapt and improve.  Do not just do this every day forever.  Also, remember to stay hydrated while you’re doing your training and don’t treat time on the stationary bike as a complete replacement for real rides.  You still need to build experience.

AIDS/LifeCycle Advice, Part 2: Start Training

Continuing on in my series of thoughts on AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC), training for it, riding in it, raising funds for it, etc, I’m going to talk about the topic that comes up most frequently in conversation, and that’s training.  In all honesty, I think that training is a common conversation to have because the distance of the ride seems so large.  It seems so improbable that you can actually finish a 500+ mile tour without putting yourself through a very serious training regimen.  As I mention in my previous post in this series, try to remember that the mileage is over a week and that cycling is the most energy-efficient method of transportation available.  Those distances look far, but once you start your training and get some rides under your belt, it’ll become clear that the training isn’t going to kill you and neither is ALC.  Since I love tilting at straw men, I’m going to again present my thoughts and advice as responses to statements I’ve heard or am likely to be asked.

I just signed up as a rider.  I have to start training.  What do I do?

First off, congratulations on signing up.  You’re in for the adventure of a lifetime.  I really mean that.  I’d rather ride ALC than pretty much any other cycling activity I can think of.  Of course, you’re going to need to do some work to be ready for the ride, but I promise you that you can do it.  The most important thing to remember through this entire process is that ALC is a ride and not a race.  The goal of your ride is to safely finish as many miles as you possibly can.  You are not concerned with how long it takes you to do it (aside from trying to finish before the trail closes in the evening).  You are not concerned with your finish time.  You are not concerned about the other riders.  You’re concerned about you finishing the course safely.

You’re going to train accordingly.  The two things that your training plan needs to develop are your cardiovascular endurance and your riding experience.  You will most effectively develop both by getting out there and riding.  There’s just no replacement for doing this.  Through this post and others, suggestions I give should be seen as additional to this.  The most important thing for you to do is get on your bike and ride it.  You need to ride it in all sorts of conditions, including at least a little riding in wet conditions, in the heat, in the cold, and in some level of traffic.  You need to ride flat terrain, and you need to ride hills.  Sit down with Google Maps.  Pick a place to go.  Go there with your bike.  That’s a good training ride for ALC.  Pick another place.  That is also a good training ride for ALC.  If you can do your daily commute by bike, even if it’s only one day a week, then do it.  If not, start visiting places by bike on the weekend.  If you’ve got a lazy Saturday and you’re going to your friend’s house, consider doing it on your bike.  See the world from that perspective.

It can’t really be that simple.  I was hoping you’d give me something with some structure to go on.

You’re right that it isn’t that simple, but you’re going to be training for months and there are a few fundamentals to get out of the way first.  You’re a mysterious italic text in my blog, and I don’t know you very well, but I can tell you that the three qualities you’re going to need in abundance on ALC are cardiovascular endurance, riding experience, and dedication.  You won’t finish the ride without all three.  Committing yourself right now to riding as often as possible gets you started on all three of those at once.  As you start riding and start building more confidence in your endurance and in your experience, you’re going to find yourself seeking out more challenging rides.  It’s inevitable once you find it fun.  If you don’t find it fun, then you’re going to have a very long week at ALC.  So, it’s rather important that you actually do as much “fun riding” as you can!  Going out and having relaxing, productive, and fun rides is actually teaching you a lot about your muscle memory for riding.  It’s going to help you understand your pace better, and when you’re ready to get super-serious, you’ll know a few things about how you feel comfortable riding.

Well, I don’t actually know how to ride a bike.

You’re very courageous to sign up for an event like ALC without prior cycling experience.  They run workshops to help get you started, and I highly encourage you to take them rather than taking advice from my blog.  I am not qualified to teach you how to ride a bike through my writing.  Suffice it to say, though, that as you learn to ride, keep yourself in environments that are safe for your skill level.  Parking lots are your friends, and you can use very large parking lots early in the morning to do safe and long rides.  Find your local bike paths and parks.  Do not get out on the road until you know how to handle your ride.  There are many months in which to learn.  Don’t push yourself.

Should I start using the stationary bike at the gym?

It’s not a bad idea to do so, provided that you’re also taking yourself out on regular rides on your bike.  Stationary bikes are good for a few things.  The first is that you can ride them whenever you want.  The second is that you can control the ride, which lets you have rides that target fitness goals.  A third one is that you can play video games while you ride them.  So, yes.  Go to the gym and get on that bike.  This is an easy way to cram in more ride time.  Just don’t treat it like a replacement for your actual rides, because while you can develop your body riding a stationary bike, you will not build riding experience.

Should I start taking a spin class?

I’m sure you’ll find plenty of benefit in doing so.  That said, I don’t think they’re necessary at all.  I’m a very successful long distance rider and I have attended only one spin class in my entire life.  In fact, your gym’s spin classes may not be focused on helping you develop the way you need to.  ALC is all about staying on your bike for hours and committing yourself to a pace you can keep all day long.  Spin classes are often about intense bursts of effort, pushing you to be a panting, sweating mess.  They’ll help you build leg muscles quickly, no doubt, but you should remember that they’re not the end-all of your training plan.  You don’t make yourself a marathon runner by training for the 500m hurdles.

What about group rides?

If your abilities and your attitude gel with a local group, then you absolutely should do a group ride.  Here in San Jose, we have San Jose Bike Party, who focus on fun and safety in their rides, and that works out really well for me.  I steer clear of clubs full of people who race, because the last thing I want when I’m riding is hearing a bunch of people trying to be competitive with each other.  You might have a competitive mentality, though, and that might be your thing.  Either way, group rides will get you out on real road conditions and riding with others.  You’ll encounter both in ALC.  ALC may even be offering training rides in your area.  You should definitely do some if you can.  You’ll make some friends that way, and having friends on the ride is a very good thing.

How many miles should I aim for?

In all honesty, that’s something you’re going to have to work out with yourself, and it’s going to depend on your fitness level and how much time you have available.  It’s also not about how many miles you do but about the quality of the workout you’re getting.  For most of my ALC training, I was riding 15 miles on the road and doing another 20 in the gym every weekday.  On the weekends, I would do some unstructured riding, have a run, go for a walk, or just take the whole weekend off.  For a few weeks, I was able to sustain 40 and even 50 mile days, all of it over the road, but the reality is that these training days were not the best for my daily schedule and my family life.  Don’t push yourself too hard.  Keep it fun.  Keep your motivation up.  Stay in the saddle.

I really was hoping for a workout plan.  Maybe you could just recommend a book for me?

In subsequent posts on training, I’ll give you some good ideas about workouts and how to prepare for the legendary hills in ALC.  What’s important right now is that you get started and get committed.  That said, there’s an excellent book I recommend you read while you start training.  It’s called Base Building For Cyclists by Thomas Chappele, and I read it when I was starting out on distance cycling.

AIDS/LifeCycle Advice, Part 1: Signing up

For those of you who followed the saga on LiveJournal and Facebook earlier this year, I participated in AIDS/LifeCycle 9 (ALC 9), an epic 545-mile bicycle ride to benefit the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LA Gay and Lesbian Community Center.  I was successful in completing the ride and, thanks to my many wonderful donors, helped raise over $5,000 to support the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in their mission to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to help provide quality of life to those already infected.  Participating in this ride is one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done, and while I have decided to skip ALC 10, I really do hope to participate in ALC 11 and future events.

A friend has decided to participate this year, though, and it sparked the idea of giving some advice to those considering it for themselves.  So, without further ado, here’s the first installment of my advice for ALC prospectives.  All of these posts are going to take the form of my responses to common statements and questions surrounding the ride.

I’ve decided to participate in ALC.

Good for you!  Unless you’re already fighting major social issues and a veteran bicycle tourist, this is going to be one of the most challenging, exciting, and emotionally moving things you’ve done.  I mean it.  You’re going to get in shape like you’ve never been before, you’re going to do something very real and meaningful to fight a deadly disease, you’re going to make some new friends, and you’re going to have an amazing adventure as you ride through some of the most beautiful and iconic scenery of one of America’s most beautiful and iconic states.  It’s a win-win situation, and you won’t regret your decision for a moment.

I think ALC is exciting, but I don’t think I can raise enough money.

Believe it or not, that’s what I said, and I nearly didn’t sign up because I didn’t believe anyone would donate to my ride.  The qualifying mark for donations sounds high, but it really isn’t that bad as long as you’re committed to it.  I was able to raise $5,000, well over the qualifying mark, almost completely through Facebook, family, and friends.  Note that I didn’t go to a single business to ask for support or sponsorship, I didn’t pound the pavement, I didn’t try to latch on to local events, I didn’t work through a team…I basically begged among my family and friends and Facebook circle, and I discovered that, in fact, it is possible to raise that kind of money.  People are generous and most of them actually do want to do something good for the world.  They’re waiting for an excuse to do that.  Your decision to join ALC and train for the ride is their excuse to be charitable.  By committing to this ride, you are not only stepping up in an act of personal heroism but also encouraging heroism in everyone around you as you seek your fundraising quota.  Don’t be afraid of the fundraising requirement…sign up and start getting your social circle involved!  You can do it, and the ALC staff have produced some wonderful materials to help you get there!

I want to ride in ALC, but I don’t think I can ride that far.

I bet you can!  Just like above, you shouldn’t sell yourself short.  No matter how unprepared you think you are, you’re probably more capable than you know.  Did you know that, every year, ALC runs workshops for adults who don’t know how to ride a bike at all?  That’s right…ALC regularly recruits complete beginners to the ride.  On top of that, ALC has been a regular motivator for countless people to win their battles with obesity.  You might not think of yourself as the “athletic type” now, but when you put your bike to rest in Los Angeles, you’ll be singing a different tune.  People of all ages, shapes, sizes, and conditions finish ALC.  Beyond that, cycling is one of the easiest activities to get started in, and touring and distance cycling is one of the easiest aspects of cycling to do well.  Your body is built for long-distance stamina already, and cycling is a low-impact activity that boasts the best energy / mileage efficiency available.  You’re going to be making this trip the most energy-efficient way you can…on a bike!  Don’t be your own worst enemy.  Sign up and give it a shot.  Even if the ride is too hard, you’ll still be a hero to those who depend on the services your ride will fund.

I want to ride in ALC, but my bike isn’t very good.

One of the most unfortunate things about cycling is that it often becomes a sport of conspicuous consumption.  When people think of a cyclist, they think of some skinny and vaguely European guy, decked in his finest custom spandex suit and aerodynamic helmet, sitting astride a bike that costs more than a car, as he charges over some French hill chasing after a title nobody really cares about.  It comes as no shock, then, that those who want to look serious about cycling often buy expensive bikes and tons of spandex suits so that they can look serious as they ride on the local trail at a cruising pace.  If you’re worried about your bike, stop worrying.  Pretty much everything that makes a bike expensive becomes a concern only when you’re trying to go fast (i.e. when you’re racing).  ALC isn’t about going fast.  You can go quite slowly and still finish each day.  Just like all kinds of people finish the ride, all kinds of bikes do.  The person to finish just after me completed the entire ride on a single-speed bike.  That’s right…where I had the luxury of gears, he climbed the hills with nothing but experience, patience, and determination.  People finish the ride on recumbent bikes (which many of them ride due to orthopedic problems), which are often heavier than regular bikes.  I met a rider who was riding a folding bike and another who was on a 1978 Univega…who rode every day in a t-shirt and jeans.  I didn’t look, but I’m sure there were several inexpensive hybrid bikes from Target or Wal*Mart in the ride.  If your bike has brakes and doesn’t fall apart constantly, you can probably finish ALC.

No, really…I’ve thought about this and I just don’t want to commit to that level of training or fund-raising.

I can completely respect your position.  Having done it, I can say that the training and the fund-raising will take your time and attention.  Or perhaps you’ve talked this over with your doctor and you really can’t safely finish a ride like this.  There are many excellent reasons to not ride ALC.  There are more ways to participate, though.  All those riders need an army of supporters to keep them on the road.  You might want to consider signing up as a roadie.  As a roadie, you will have a significantly lower fund-raising target (approximately $500) and you won’t have to worry yourself with training for the ride.  You’ll be out there every day keeping the riders safe, on-course, fed, sheltered, healthy, and happy.  As a once-and-future rider of ALC, I can say this about the roadies– I’d have failed without them.  Without food and water available every 20 miles…without the medical tent helping with a saddle sore…without someone minding my tent and gear…without friendly faces everywhere I turned, I would have never made it.  Maybe, if you’re reading this, your friend just signed up for the ride and you want to get involved.  This is a great way to do it.  On top of that, you’re going to see some very scenic parts of California.  You’ll have plenty of time to relax, enjoy the trip, and take things in.  Roadies come back year after year because it’s essentially a fun and socially beneficial vacation.  If you sign up as a roadie, you’re my hero.

Okay, so I’ve signed up.  Now what do I do?

Good for you!  Go get a friend to do it with you.  No, really.  That’s not a joke.  You’re going to share a tent with someone, so why not make that someone a friend?  Having a friend with you is going to make things easier from both a logistical and an emotional point of view, and it’s the one thing I really wish I had done on my ride.  Outside of that, you’ve got two tasks ahead of you: fund-raising and training (presuming you’re a rider).  I’ll be tackling those in subsequent posts.  Stay tuned!