Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Cycling coach, writer, and masters champion Arnie Baker has surveyed many controlled experiments in this article. Baker gives very short summaries of studies in many areas -- nutrition, equipment, training/racing, medicine, psychology, etc.

Sample conclusions are: pacing paid off in a 20 kilometer bike time trial, clipless pedals do not offer a physiological advantage, a fifty percent taper a week before a race is beneficial. Still, the bottom line is that the experimental differences tend to be marginal -- training is still the key.

Baker has written many other books and articles, available at his Web site.

Could we learn by each of us conducting a one-person experiments and reported our results on the Net?

Tapering off before competition

One should obviously taper off their training prior to a competition. I have entered a couple of competitions, and wish I had seen Arnie Baker's recomendations on tapering before the events. Baker advocates a week long taper.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Discussion forum for cyclists who are over 50

I began this blog by describing an informal experiment I did comparing clipless pedals with toe clips. I also posted a summary of the results on a forum for over-50 cyclists. Some folks there thought I underestimated clipless pedals, others disagreed. You can see the entire discussion thread here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thomas Jefferson on exercise

I just read that Thomas Jefferson advised at least two hours per day exercise and drank 3 or 4 glasses of wine a day.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Does creatine work?

A 60 year old gym acquaintance who is a physician recommended taking creatine, so I decided to do a little Web research. Most of what I found indicated that creatine helps build strength and muscle.

For example, the article The Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Body Composition, Muscular Strength and Power presents an experiment with 36 female college volleyball players. Sixteen were given creatine and 16 a placebo during a ten week strength training program. The placebo group improved their single rep maximum bench press from 47.4 to 50.3 kilograms while the creatine group improved from 47.6 to 55.2. Another article, Creatine supplementation combined with resistance training in older men, concludes that creatine supplementation, when combined with resistance training, increases lean tissue mass and improves leg strength, endurance, and average power in men of mean age 70 yr.

Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: recent findings is a survey article covering studies between 1999 and 2005. Some of the conclusions are:
  • [Creatine] appears to be most effective for activities that involve repeated short bouts of high-intensity physical activity.
  • When maximal force or strength (dynamic or isotonic contractions) is the outcome measure following Cr ingestion, it generally appears that Cr does significantly impact force production regardless of sport, sex or age.
  • The evidence is much more equivocal when investigating isokinetic force production and little evidence exists to support the use of Cr for isometric muscular performance.
  • There is little benefit from Cr ingestion for the prevention or suppression of muscle damage or soreness following muscular activity.
  • When performance is assessed based on intensity and duration of the exercises, there is contradictory evidence relative to both continuous and intermittent endurance activities.
  • Activities that involve jumping, sprinting or cycling generally show improved sport performance following Cr ingestion.
  • There appears to be no strong scientific evidence to support any adverse effects but it should be noted that there have been no studies to date that address the issue of long-term Cr usage.
Another survey, Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Metabolites, Constituents, and Extracts (one article in a six-article series on supplements), reaches similar conclusions. There are also Wikipedia articles on Creatine and Creatine supplements.

Since I am into weight lifting and bike riding, I think I'll give it a try.

The survey I summarized above notes that the most common program involves an initial loading phase of 20 g/day for 5-7 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5 g/day for differing periods of time (1 week to 6 months). A dose calculator advised that I take 3.5 mg per day and skip the initial loading phase since I am over 65. They also recommend combining it with vitamins b6, b12 and folic acid which you can get in one pill at Trader Joe's.

Have you used creatine? Did it work for you?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

How much do clipless pedals help?

After riding an old Raleigh Competition road bike for years with sneakers and toe clips, I was curious about clipless pedals. I purchased a set of Look pedals and Shimano shoes, and compared them with my old pedals in two performance tests.

I compared the pedals in two tests on a flat course and two tests on a hill climb. The clipless pedals improved my time by 1.85% on the flat course and 1.9% on a hill climb. The overall difference was 1.88%.

The flat course is a 7.3 kilometer bike path running along a paved creek from West Los Angeles to the beach and the hill climb is 6.9 kilometers, gaining a net of 246 meters between Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive.

The prevailing wind on the flat course is from the beach, and I average of 122 seconds more when going toward the beach than on the return leg. Most of the hill climb course is uphill – one climbs 358 meters – but there are short descents of 112 meters.

I did trials on four days. Each day, I rode one of the courses twice at my top speed, changing the pedals between the rides. The results of the four trials were:

Trial 1: I rode the 14.6 km round trip on the flat course using clipless pedals (1,586 seconds), changed the pedals, and then rode it again using pedals with toe clips (1,649 seconds).

Trial 2: I rode the 14.6 km round trip on the flat course using pedals with toe clips (1,595 seconds), changed the pedals, and then rode it again using clipless pedals (1,598 seconds).

Trial 3: I rode the 7 km hill climb using pedals with toe clips (1,823 seconds), rode quickly back down the hill, changed the pedals, and then rode up again using clipless pedals (1,844 seconds).

Trial 4: I rode the 7 km hill climb using clipless pedals (1,815 seconds), rode quickly back down the hill, changed the pedals, and then rode up again using pedals with toe clips (1,907 seconds).

Changing pedals took around five minutes, and the downhill ride about ten minutes.

This table shows the total number of seconds using both pedals on both courses. The bottom line is that the toe clips improved my times, but by less than two percent.

Toe clipCliplessPercent

Of course, you would see different results. I am 67 years old, and riding an old bike -- a Raleigh Competition with steel tubing, Campagnolo derailleurs, and cheesy replacement wheels. There were a few days between each trial. I did not ride those days, but did run or lift weights. One cannot be sure that I rode all-out on every run, though I did my best. (I did not eat or drink between runs, which may have slowed the second leg a bit).

I believe these results are accurate for me. I will compete in a sprint triathlon later this summer. Based upon this experiment, clip on shoes would only save me about 20 seconds on the 10k bike leg, so I will be better off riding in my running shoes using toe clips, and saving the time to change shoes.

This experiment was simple and easy to do, and there could be many variations on the theme. For example, I would like to compare my current bike against a new one. I also pushed my highest gear throughout the flat course – I wonder whether a lower gear would have helped going into the wind.

Are you curious about some variation in your bike or the way you ride? Run an experiment and let us all know how it turns out.