Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How to Get into Road Bike Racing

If you are wondering how to get into bike racing you are probably already a fast cyclist. When you go out for your evening and weekend rides you zip by every other cyclist on the road with relative ease. Now it's time for you to start winning real bike races just Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador have been doing for years. Since you can beat every commuter to the next stop light and smoke every clydesdale up the canyon like their standing still, surely you can win all the local races and show everyone else what you already know; that you are the fastest bike rider around. But there is one problem…. you are not sure how to infiltrate the bike racing scene to display your amazing speed. Here I will give you some tips and steps to take to begin a successful racing career:

1. Join a cycling team

Technically, you can be an "unattached" racer and not join a team but your racing and training is going to be more fun and successful if you are a member of a racing team. As a member of a racing team you will enjoy a sense of comraderie, have people to work together with in races, and meet a larger group of potential training partners. Being on a team will also increase the chances that bike racing will be an activity you will stick with for years to come.

So how do you go about joining a team? The best way to begin your search for a team is to go to USA Cycling's club search web page here and search for the teams that are registered in your area. Most teams are going to be associated with a bike shop. While finding the team sponsored by the shop closest to your home isn't the most important criteria for deciding which one to join, it does make it more convenient since a lot of the group training rides will use the shop as a meeting place. It also helps if the shop that sponsors the team you join is one where you would like to get your bike serviced and purchase bikes and parts since you will most likely be receiving some sort of discount at that shop for joining their team.

Once you have decided what team you want to join head over to their shop and tell them you want to join the team. To join the team it will probably cost somewhere between twenty-five and seventy-five dollars. At the minimum you will also need to get a team jersey. There will most likely be some jerseys in stock to purchase when you join the team. You will find that most team members wear the team jersey and bibs every time they ride so it could be a good idea to get multiple jerseys and a pair of matching bibs to complete the kit.

As a member of the team be sure to get on all the email lists so you know when the group rides are happening. There will always be people looking for others to go on rides with. Don't be intimidated to go on the group rides. Everyone will be happy to have another rider in the group and you most likely won't be the slowest rider. And you will meet some new friends.

2. Get a USA Cycling License

Go to USA Cycling's website and register for a license here. The annual fee for a road racing license is $65. As a person new to road bike racing you will start out as a Category 5 racer, or a "Cat-5". After ten mass start races you can upgrade to Cat-4 but but upgrade process that is beyond the scope of this article.

When you register for a racing license you will be asked what team you are a member of or whether you are unattached. This is why I recommend joining a team prior to getting a racing license. However, if you get a license prior to joining a team all you have to do is call USA Cycling, tell them you have joined a team and they will send you a new license with your team information included.

3. Go Race!

Isn't this the whole point? Get on your bike and ride! You will be surprised to learn that you can find a local bike race for almost every day of the week. Most metropolitan areas will have a weeknight series of criterium races and individual time trials. Not all of these weeknight races will be USA Cycling sanctioned for upgrade points but are excellent for training and to see how you stack up to other cyclists that you will be racing against in the larger weekend road races. Find the USA Cycling sanctioned races on usacycling.org or ask some of your experienced teammates about the races and schedule while on the team group rides. Your new teammates will be more than happy to provide you with all their knowledge of the local races and share some racing tips.

Don't be afraid. Sign up for some upcoming races. Show up ready to have fun and be competitive. Remember that everyone else there will be normal Joes just like you with real day jobs and are not professional cyclists. No one will care what kind of bike or gear you have either. While there will be plenty of incredibly expensive new bikes racing around, there will also be many older, less glamorous bikes being raced on as well. You'll also find that most of the other racers will be surprisingly friendly, regardless of what team they are on, and you'll end up becoming good friends with the other racers you see on a regular basis.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Specialized BG High Performance Footbeds Review

After having a moderate amount of inner knee pain for a month from cycling I knew I needed to find a solution in order to keep cycling on an almost daily basis and not incur a long-term injury. I had already dialed in my seat position, stem length, and the usual basic bike fit areas but the issue persisted.

In my research I came across a few articles that discuss the relationship between the varus / valgus angles and the affect on knees during cycling pedal strokes. As I continued to cycle through my knee pain I could feel my left knee tracking towards the top tube and adding to the inner knee pain.

As someone who has worn orthotics in my athletic shoes for the past fifteen years I could also feel that the angle my foot was being held into my pedals was not the natural position that it should be in, especially under the loads of bike racing and training. My orthotics in my running shoes pitch my left foot to the outside four degrees to get my leg aligned to its natural position but my bike pedal cleats and shoes are flat.

I had previously read a bit about angled cleat wedges but the idea of adding more stack height to my Speedplay Zero pedals that already have a Cleat Extender Base Plate Kit did not sound appealing.

Then I came across the Specialized BG Shim Kit and BG High Performance Footbeds. The idea behind these offerings from Specialized is to make the foot adjustment (varus or valgus) from inside the shoe instead of at the bike pedal cleat. For half the price of a new Continental GP 4000S tire I thought it would be worth a shot to try out either the BG Shim Kit or BG High Performance Footbeds, depending on what would work with my current cycling shoes.

I made my way to the reputable local bike shop and Specialized dealer with my current shoes and had one of their experienced staff members assist me with deciding whether I needed the BG Shim Kit or BG High Performance Footbeds. For just a small difference in price, he recommended I get the BG High Performance Footbeds since they provide full foot support and also come with the same varus and valgus shims that come in the BG Shim Kit. The footbeds that came with my shoes provide no support so it was an easy decision to go along with the shop employee’s recommendation.

The Specialized BG High Performance Footbeds come in following three options:

+ Red - for people with flat feet

++ Blue - for people with flat to standard arches

+++ Green - for people with standard or high arches

For additional detail from Specialized's website: Click Here

I stood on all three options of the footbeds and the Blue option was what clearly fit my feet the best.

After getting home from the bike shop I put the Blue BG High Performance Footbeds in my shoes using two orange varus wedges in my left shoe to get my foot pitched out three degrees (each wedge has 1.5 degree of pitch), which is close to the four degrees my orthotic has. For the right foot I used one orange varus wedge and one yellow valgus wedge to net to zero change in the right foot angle and to also match the volume of the left footbed wedges.

Initial Thoughts

Though my knee was sensitive and had some minor swelling from all the recent irritation from cycling, I was able to strongly perceive that my foot and knee were tracking more naturally and I had less inner knee pain during the initial two hour spirited ride.

The downside to the BG High Performance Footbeds is that my toes were moderately uncomfortable because of the volume that the BG Shims took in the toe box of my shoes. It was not so uncomfortable that I had to cut my ride short but I would be hesitant to sign up for a century ride with my current shoes with these footbeds. But I would also be hesitant to go for a hundred mile ride without the varus correction and knee pain relief that these footbeds provide.

After only one ride I would be hesitant to strongly endorse any piece of cycling gear but the Specialized BG High Performance Footbeds seem to provide benefits to people who need varus or valgus foot angle correction in addition to providing arch support.

I will provide follow-up reviews after I get more time on the bike with the Specialized BG High Performance Footbeds to add additional findings or change my initial analysis.