VeloPro Training Tips

The Effect of Air Quality on Cycling Training

Virtually every day we see the effects of Climate Change.  Millenia-old icebergs come apart, hurricanes and typhoons become more destructive, and forest fires more common.  For athletes, the most readily felt effect of all this is on the quality of the air we breathe.

Exercising in dirty air is never a good idea.  But what constitutes dirty air?  The US Environmental Protection Agency uses a 0-300 scale called Air Quality Index (AQI).  AQI considers measurements of ozone, large and small particulates, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide, so it’s a good indicator of when and when not to train outdoors and, perhaps more importantly, how hard to train, or not.  It’s important to note here that, for endurance athletes, the pollutants to really watch out for are small particle pollutants – those classified as PM2.5 – that easily enter the bloodstream through one’s lungs.  PM2.5s are commonly produced by vehicles, industry, dust storms, and forest fires.  The latter are increasingly common on the US west coast, once the standard bearer for clean air.

For healthy individuals, with no respiratory issues like asthma, sinusitis, or significant pollen allergies, hard exercise (defined as Level 3 or higher – that which, for most people, means breathing through the mouth as well as the nose, thereby bypassing the nasal passages’ natural filters) exercising with AQI levels above 150 is not recommended.  In this case, it’s better to either do your workout indoors, or just do an easier one if you really must get outside.  For levels above 150, the best option is to simply take the day off.

For our U.S. riders, you can find your local AQI at the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow Website.  Look at the top of the page.  You can select your area by zip code or state.

For our European riders, you can find your local European Environment Agency’s Air Quality Site. Look at the bottom of the page.  You can select your country for more details.

How to Prepare your Bike for Winter Riding

Winter is coming! Here's a quick checklist to prepare your for winter riding.

  • Fenders -- Avoid the wet ass and black stripe up the back! Most bikes these days, even expensive road bikes support fenders. If you don’t have the luxury of purchasing a “rain/snow” bike at least put some fenders on that bad boy.
  • Wheels and Tires -- If you can afford a cheap set of wheels for winter riding, good on ya mate. Regardless, you should consider putting wider tires and heavier tubes on your bike for winter riding. Instead of 700c x 25, go for 700 x 28, or even bigger if your wheels and frame will accommodate. This adds stability and comfort in conditions where traction becomes an issue.  If you are riding tubeless, give your sealant level a check and top it up. Also, regularly check your tire pressure. Cool weather can kick your normal pressure down 5-10 PSI.
  • Seat Post -- A seized seat post is a nightmare and can destroy your frame. Water and salt speeds up the process.  Lube metal-to-metal seat post to frame. If you are running a carbon seat post to a carbon frame, use the paste. 
  • Drivetrain -- Wet and snowy conditions mean that you should clean and degrease your drive train more often. Check it after every ride. Consider using a heavier “wet lube that will stand up better to the elements.
  • Brakes -- Inspect your brake before each ride. Grit and dirt are like sandpaper for rim and disc brakes. We recommend that you wipe down your rims and pads or your discs after each wet or snowy ride.
  • Cables -- Inspect your cables. Make sure the rubber gaskets that protect exposed cables and frame connections are in good shape. You don’t want water inside your frame corroding your cables.
  • Wash Station -- Get yourself some dedicated bike towels, a bucket, and some brushes. Wash your bike after each ride. This doesn’t have to be a long process. If you ride where they salt the roads for ice and snow, you must make sure that bikes destroying stuff is off your bike ASAP.

The 5 Keys to a Good FTP Check Up

Functional Threshold Power, or FTP, is an objective scientific measure of cycling performance.  FTP is simply the average maximum power, measured in watts, that you can maintain for a 60-minute period.  This gives you a good idea of your cycling strength and fitness.  FTP is a great way to see if your training is helping you to improve over time. You can also compare your FTP with riders of all levels.

At VeloPro, we use the 20-minute method to derive your FTP.  This method helps encourage you to test regularly while avoiding injury.  FTP is best checked every 2-3 weeks after a build period in your training workouts. The actual test is best administered as part of a normal training ride.  To take the test, at the beginning of your ride, first complete a normal warm up.  Next, ride for 20-minutes at maximum effort. Think of it as a mini time trial. The most accurate FTP measurements come from using a power meter connected to your cycling computer.  If you do not have a power meter, VeloPro can estimate your output in watts from other ride data.    

Here are 5 Keys to having a great FTP test:

  1. Plan your route. You need 20 minutes of consistent uninterrupted effort.  This means no stop signs, red lights, coasting descents or bathroom breaks.  This can be a difficult challenge for urban riders.  Max efforts can produce great speed and you can burn through a route quickly. For this reason, some people prefer to take their FTP tests on an indoor trainer.  Another good alternative is to find a good long hill climb where max effort does not mean max speed.
  2. Check your bike. Make sure your bike and tires are in good shape.  You don’t want a flat or mechanical issue to take you out.  Check your chain.  Nothing will suck the watts out of your performance more than a worn chain or drive train.  Make sure your power meter and heart rate strap have good battery charge.  There’s nothing worse than a dead battery during and FTP check.
  3. Don’t skip the warm up. Maximum efforts require that you warm up to avoid injury and over revving your heart rate.  This is why you see pro cyclists vigorously riding a trainer before a time trial event.  Your engine needs time to heat up for top performance.
  4. Do the test! Some people don’t like tests. It makes them nervous and anxious.  We sympathize.  In VeloPro, nobody sees your FTP test data but you.  You have complete privacy.  If for some unavoidable reason the test does not go well, you can always edit the ride to remove the FTP checkbox. This will make the ride a normal training ride. Then you can try again
  5. Don’t sandbag. Yes you. A higher FTP does mean that your future workouts should ask more from you.  This is a good thing.  This is how you get fitter, faster and stronger.  Don’t be a Plateau Joe.  Plateau Joe is a champion of mediocrity. He does the same thing every ride because it is comfortable and then doesn’t understand why he doesn’t get better.  Don’t be that rider.  IF you train with VeloPro, we build rest into your plan, so you have a chance to recover.  There’s no reason to sandbag.

VeloPro makes it simple and easy to measure your FTP and train for your next cycling event. Road, Mountain and Cyclocross, we have you covered. Sign up for a free trial today.

Top 5 Reasons to Ride Indoors

Most of us love to ride outdoors.  There’s nothing better than speeding through the countryside feeling the wind on your face, tackling a challenging hill and carving through the descent that follows.  A smart trainer and a box fan just can’t compete with nature. However, there are times when riding and training indoors is the best solution. Riding indoors gives you the ultimate control of your environment and safety.  Here are the top reasons to ride indoors:

  1. Cope with weather conditions: Rain, snow, ice, excessive heat, air quality warnings, and darkness are all valid reasons to ride indoors.
  2. Enjoy gamification: Services like Zwift and Rouvy also offer unique experiences that make it fun to ride indoors. Even if it is virtual, it can be thrilling to ride a stage of the Tour De France or time trial with cyclists from around the world.  With a variety of competitions, events and rides, virtual services can be addicting and a cure for training boredom.
  3. Reduce interruptions:  Pedestrians, stop signs, red lights, school zones, heavy traffic, road construction, and other unpredictable events can sabotage a good training ride.  If you're in an urban area and don't have time to find a safe, less populated route, riding indoors can save your life.
  4. Increase control:  Consider riding inside when you need tight control of the timing and accuracy of your power output for certain types of training rides.
    • FTP tests (functional threshold power) require a consistent maximum effort for 20 minutes. Riding indoors helps ensure accuracy and minimizes interruptions.
    • SST training (sweet spot training) requires you to keep your power output in a tight window of 10 watts or less variability. This is much easier on an indoor trainer where terrain is not an issue.
    • Interval training requires maximum effort followed by short periods of rest.  You can't afford to worry about road hazards. Finding a place to safely ride intervals can be difficult and not many people have access to a Velodrome or bike track. Also, intervals require careful timing and monitoring of your effort and power output.  This can be easier to manage riding indoors.
  5. Heat acclimation:  If you're going to a big ride somewhere hot and humid, riding indoors can help you prepare. Just crank up the thermostat!  Many Olympic athletes did this when preparing for the Rio games. Triathletes regularly do this for the Ironman in Kona.
  6. Bonus reason: No helmet required!

No matter your reason for training indoors, it is super easy to convert any VeloPro workout into an indoor Zwift or smart trainer session. With just a click, you can download your workout in .ZWI or .ERG file format. So, when you can't get out there, you can still get inside and ride!

Why you Should Invest in a Bike Fit

Poor bike fit is a big barrier to efficiency and a major cause of repetitive stress injuries.  A great bike fit is a perfect meld of rider and machine. When your bike is optimized for your body mechanics, you feel comfortable in the saddle.  You have more power and can ride longer. Most importantly, you have less knee, hip, back and shoulder pain. If you ride or train more than once a week you should seriously consider investing in a fit.  Experienced riders know that millimeters can make a world of difference in comfort and performance.

Bike fitting is a combination of science and hard earned experience. A bike fit can cost anywhere from $150 to $400.  Many bike shops offer fit services and there are several bike fitting "systems" that have passionate advocates. However, the best way to find a bike fit expert in your area is ask for recommendations from other riders.  The top names will rise to the top. The only way to ensure that bike fit changes actually help is to ride. Look for an expert that will guarantee their work and make free adjustments for a few months after the initial fitting.  If you have multiple bikes, you can ask your fitter replicate your setup from your primary bike to your other rides for an additional cost. Also remember, our bodies change over time, so if it's been a few years since your setup or if you get a new bike, revisit that fit.

You've Got to Check your Cycling Cleats

They're under your shoes and easy to forget, but breaking a cleat mid-ride can be a painful reminder! Loose cleats can completely change your float and pedaling dynamics, causing knee or ankle pain and loss of power. A cleat that sticks while unclipping can cause an embarrassing zero speed fall. No matter what cleat you use, SPD, SPD-SL, Speedplay, Look, or TIME, you should check them at least once a week. If you notice a tension change when clipping or unclipping this could be caused by a worn cleat or by one that is coming loose from the shoe. Make sure the bolts are tight. Look for cracks and breaks. Always replace worn cleats as soon as soon as possible. It is a good practice to keep a new set of replacement cleats on hand, so you are always ready to ride.

How to Stretch Before a Training Ride

Don't.  Stretching cold is a recipe for a pulled muscle. Each training workout should include a "Warm Up" interval of 10-15 minutes that slowly wakes up your muscles for the demand of more strenuous riding.  Don't skip the warm up!   Always stretch after you ride.  Everyone has different body mechanics and therefore, different stretching needs.  Common stretches for cyclists focus on quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, the back, and shoulders.  Make sure to gently hold each stretch for at least 40-60 seconds for maximum benefit.  No bouncing!  Consult an expert for proper technique.  Click here for a video from our friends at GCN on 5 good cycling stretches.  If you experience frequent muscle strain or pain in your knees, hips, back or shoulders that a good bike fit does not resolve, consult with a physical therapist.  A physical therapist can create a custom stretching program to addresses your problem areas and greatly improve your comfort and flexibility on the bike.  

VeloPro User Tip - How to Take Time Off from Training

Life happens.  Travel, schedule changes, illness, weather, kid’s soccer game, work deadline, family emergency—there are a million reasons why you may need to take a day or two off from training.  In VeloPro, it is quick and easy to cancel a workout.

  1. Clip In and go to your Training Plan.  
  2. Select the day or days you need to take off.  Do this by clicking on the day, not the workout.
  3. Choose the “Mark as Time Off” option.
  4. Click the “Save” button.  

It is important to mark your days off on or before the actual date of the workout.  This allows VeloPro to recalculate your training plan and individual workouts, so that you stay on track for your goal.  If you change your mind later or your schedule frees up, you can always add cancelled workouts back to your plan by following the same process.   

Please note that you cannot retroactively take days off or add a workout back to the calendar after the day has passed. 

If you miss a workout or do not upload a ride for that day, VeloPro does not assume you took the day off and adjust your plan.  This is because many athletes upload rides several days after they workout due to travel, network connectivity or convenience.  When you upload multiple rides at one time, VeloPro takes into account your actual training load versus planned training load and may adjust future workouts to ensure you reach your goal in optimal shape.

At VeloPro, we know you have a busy life and want you to succeed!  That's why we've built our training system to dynamically adapt to you.

How to Avoid Numb Hands When Cycling

Numb hands are a very common cycling problem. The more aerodynamic your position on the bike, the more weight you transfer forward from your saddle to your hands on the handlebars. Fresh bar tape and good cycling gloves can help reduce fatigue. Avoid doing the "white-knuckle death-grip" on your bars. Keep your shoulders and hands as relaxed as possible. Wiggle your fingers occasionally to rest your hands. Regularly adjust your hand position from the tops, to the hoods, to the drops. Your brake levers and shifters should be easy to reach from the hoods and the drops. You may need to adjust your bars for proper bike fit. Bars that are slammed too low or too far forward may look cool, but could be the issue. If you find your elbows are locked and arms straight instead of extended in a friendly handshake position, your bars likely need adjustment.

Why you Should Lower your Tire Pressure

A common mistake is to run one's tires in an over-inflated state. The idea being that the "harder" a tire is, the less rolling resistance it has. In fact, that is not the case. The goal is to avoid pinch flats while reducing road buzz. Most people don't know that pinch flats occur not only when tires are under-inflated, but also when they are over-inflated. What do you do? Inflate your tires to the lower or middle PSI range recommended on the side of your tire. Just to the point where they can absorb small imperfections in the road surface, but no more. This is faster, more efficient and more comfortable. If you are a Clydesdale or Athena rider (over 200 lbs), you may need add an additional 10 PSI.