Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Baby Steps: The Truth about Cycling Nutrition

If there's one thing that's universally true about cyclists, it's that we're always willing to pay a premium for commonplace items that are ostensibly "cycling-specific."  For example, there are jeans:

And then there are cycling jeans:

There are regular undershirts*:

And there are cycling undershirts:

*[Uniqlo Heattech undershirts make great winter base layers, by the way.]

And of course there are storage jars:

And then there are cycling-specific storage jars:

Yes, I'm totally changing the name of this blog to "Storage Jar Snob:"

By the way, here are the respective dollar totals for all the items mentioned above:

Non-Cycling Specific: $70.89

Cycling-Specific: $150.71

That's more than a 100% markup just 'cause it's bikey.

I just saved you $79.82.

You're welcome.

Anyway, I mention all of this because a reader named Dale was kind enough to email me and tell me that Clif is now selling baby food pouches to cyclists:

Yes, any owner of a new human child will take just one look at these mush-filled bags with their oversized asphyxiation-proof caps and highly objectionable stomach-turning flavor combinations and conclude, quite rightly, "Holy crap, that's basically just baby food!"

Although as far as I know no baby food company has attempted to sell a bagful of pizza:

Oh yeah, Clif ran the old Bag O' Pizza guy out of business, it's that good:

This then raises an interesting and important question, which is this:

Should Freds be eating baby food?

Well, that depends whether or not your Fred is ready to start solid foods.  Here's how to tell:

--Fred can sit up well without support.
--Fred has lost the tongue-thrust reflex and does not automatically push solids out of his mouth with his tongue.
--Fred is ready and willing to chew.
--Fred is developing a “pincer” grasp, where he picks up food or other objects between thumb and forefinger. Using the fingers and scraping the food into the palm of the hand (palmar grasp) does not substitute for pincer grasp development.
--Fred is eager to participate in mealtime and may try to grab food and put it in his mouth.

Okay, clearly Fred's not ready to eat like a big boy.  So now the question becomes whether Fred should eat the Cliff stuff or actual baby food.

Let's compare.

Over at Buy Buy Baby, a 113g pouch of Happy Baby™ Stage 3 goo sells for $1.69

Ensure your child has a healthy, delicious meal with Happy Baby Hearty Meals. Savory blends and yummy combinations of organic ingredients provide balanced nutrition for little ones. Portable pouch makes feeding on the go easy.

Whereas on that site named after a river you can pick up a six-pack of Clif's cycling-specific ooze for $14.24, which comes to $2.37 per pouch:

Of course it's important to keep in mind the Clif pouch is slightly larger at 120g.  So here's what you're really paying:

Clif: approximately 2 cents a gram

Happy Baby™: approximately 1 and a half cents per gram.

So yes, you are paying a premium for the cycling-specific baby food, though admittedly you will pay a bit more for the baby-specific baby food if you go for a premium seasonal flavor like turkey and sage:

I could so easily rebrand this as "BSNYC Labs Special Seasonal Cyclocross Blend!" and charge $20 a pop, and the fact that I'm not is proof of my integrity.

Okay, I know what you're thinking.  "What's actually in all this stuff?  Similar containers aside, baby food and ride fuel are apples and oranges!"

Well, first of all, we're talking about disgusting food in pouches, so a more fitting metaphor than "apples and oranges" would be "apples/oatmeal/roastbeef" and "orange/kale/beet."  Secondly, here's what Li'l Junior's getting in his or her bag of Happy Baby™:
And here's what Li'l Fred's getting in his or her bag of Clif:

Sure, it's not exactly the same, but tell me that shit ain't baby food.

So in conclusion, yes, Freds might as well just eat baby food.

And while I'm praising myself and my integrity, it's worth noting you won't get this sort of in-depth real-world analysis and indispensable budgetary advice in magazines like "Bicycling." Instead you'll just read about how to buy a van:
I dunno, remember that "How To Poop On a Ride" article?  For a magazine about bikes they sure seem unduly interested in motor vehicles and going to the bathroom:

I'm waiting for the feature on how to change your Fred after he's soiled himself mid-ride due to excessive baby food consumption.

Lastly, speaking of motor vehicles, here's a little something from "Outside" about how to open your car door:

And the video is here.

Sadly, in the land of "rolling coal," the chances of this practice becoming widespread are exactly zero.

Monday, September 26, 2016

What's all this about "manginal gains?"

Just in case you haven't been following the sport of professional cycling (and really, who could blame you if you haven't?), recently a Russian hacking outfit by the name of "Fancy Bear" (not to be confused with "Bear Fancy," a magazine geared towards those who appreciate hirsute men) released a bunch of information about Team Sky.  Specifically, it seems their biggest riders, Bradley (or "Stanley" if you prefer) Wiggins and Chris Froome, have been receiving various suspiciously convenient TUEs (special dispensation to used banned substances) over the years, and Wiggins in particular comes out of this looking quite bad:

Those who grew tired of Team Sky's 'marginal gains' mantra will have read with a certain degree of irony as leaks from the Fancy Bears cyber-hacking group spread over the internet. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, two of the most successful riders in recent years, were revealed as recipients of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs), and while they did not break any rules, the leak posed several important questions for Team Sky.

Basically, Wiggins, an ostensible asthmatic (like much of the pro peloton conveniently and hilariously claims to be), has said he never took any injections apart from vaccinations:

Well before Fancy Bears' disclosure Wiggins had gone on record in his 2012 Autobiography 'My Time' stating that his only ever injections were for "my vaccinations" and "drips." More important for Team Sky was the fact that it had said that it would pull any rider from a race if he was suffering from allergies, rather than apply for a TUE. That was in 2013, when Dr. Steve Peters had told David Walsh, "We agreed as a team that if a rider, suffering from asthma, got into trouble with pollen we would pull him out of the race rather than apply for a therapeutic use exemption on his behalf."

When in reality he was getting corticoid steroid shots right before the Grand Tours:

The timing of the application for the second set of TUEs has also raised eyebrows within the cycling community, with two leading experts and one of Wiggins' previous team doctors, Prentice Steffen, questioning the necessity of needing the steroid in the build-up to major races. The TUEs were applied for and administered by Team Sky just days before Wiggins' Grand Tour challenges at the Tour in 2011, 2012 and the Giro d'Italia in 2013. He went on to win the Tour in 2012, but crashed out of the 2011 Tour and abandoned in Italy.


Further to this, Bradley Wiggins took to the airwaves this past weekend to explain to the BBC that somehow he received no undue benefits from taking a powerful performance enhancer on the eve of a three-week Grand Tour he then went on to win:

This is the furrowed brow and pointy index finger of a man in the midst of spinning a massive lie:

("Would you excuse me for a moment?  It would appear that my trousers have caught fire.")

And this is the current state of pro cycling drug excuses:

"When you win the race three weeks out from the Tour de France, as I did, you're the favourite for the Tour.

"(And) you have the medical team and coaches checking everything's OK - 'Bradley, you're on track here, you're the favourite to win this race, now we need to make sure the next three weeks... is there anything we can help with at the moment?'

"(I say) 'Well, I'm still struggling with this breathing, I know it didn't look like it but is there anything else you can do just to make sure that I don't, this doesn't become an issue into a three-week race at the height of the season?'

"And, in turn, I took that medical advice (to take triamcinolone)."

So in other words, Wiggins and his team worked out a way to game the system in order to keep his performance consistent over the course of a three-week bicycle race, which is pretty much the equivalent of this:

"OK, Bradley, you're on track to remaining very rich for a long time.  Is there anything we can help you with at the moment?"

"Well, I'm still having to pay taxes.  Is there a way the amount of money in my bank account could stay the same come tax time?"

And, in turn, I took their advice to open a shell corporation on the Caribbean island of Nevis.

Sure, technically speaking neither of these things may be 100% illegal, but they're certainly deceitful and underhanded.  Plus, he even evokes the old "level playing field" explanation while simultaneously denying the injections enhanced his performance:

When asked about the possible performance enhancing qualities of triamcinolone, Wiggins avoided giving a direct answer, instead pointing out the abuse of the drug by Millar and Rasmussen, who have criticised his use of the drug via a TUE in recent days.

“They were abusing that drug in that era,” Wiggins claimed. “[They were taking] more of it, and abusing it, and – and this was to cure a medical condition. And the governing body, the World Anti Doping Agency, everyone said this wasn’t about trying to find a way to gain an unfair advantage, this was about putting myself back on a level playing field in order to compete at the highest level.”

The "level playing field" analogy really needs to be retired at this point.  The whole point of bike racing is that it's not a level playing field.  You've got mountains, bumpy roads, and a whole bunch of asthmatics with completely different abilities.  If you're a wheezy suck-ass with a penchant for Fred Perry shirts and you've got to "level the playing field" with someone who climbs better than you by taking a known performance enhancer then you may need to confront the fact that you're a cheater--which obviously he knows because he's only admitting to it now that the editors of "Bear Fancy" have called him on it.

So let's take a moment to consider the real victims here--no, not the fans, you'd have to be an idiot to be a fan of pro cycling in 2016.  No, the real victims are the cycling journalists.  Imagine having to cover the exploits of these riders year after year and craft these heroic narratives for them, and on top of that to have to write excitedly about the debut of some new plastic bike or new component as though it were the key to their performance.  It must be like writing for "Catholic Digest" and having to pretend the whole religion isn't a front for child molestation.

Anyway, given that there's absolutely nothing inspirational, life-affirming or even remotely plausible to be gleaned from pro cycling (or indeed any sport), I'm now only following cycling-as-political-statement:

Five hundred nuns from the Buddhist sect known as the Drukpa Order, on Saturday complete a 4,000-km (2,485 mile) bicycle trek from Nepal's Kathmandu to the northern city of Leh in India to raise awareness about human trafficking in the remote region.

"When we were doing relief work in Nepal after the earthquakes last year, we heard how girls from poor families were being sold because their parents could not afford to keep them anymore," 22-year-old nun Jigme Konchok Lhamo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it's okay to sell them," she said, adding that the bicycle trek shows "women have power and strength like men."

Firstly, that's an amazing picture, and let's look at it again:

They look like they should be portaging R2-D2:

Secondly, just imagine how much more powerful their statement would have been had they had access to state-of-the-art gravel bikes like the ones shown recently at Interbike:

I have to admit didn't really watch this because if I hear the phrase "gravel bike" one more time I'm gonna puke.  We should just start calling bikes with decent tire clearance and braze-ons "bikes" and those skinny-tired things that the dopers ride should simply be retired.

Anyway, in addition to gravel bike mania, it seems that the automatic transmission has finally come to bicycles:

The ProShift from Baron Controls will auto-shift any electronic drivetrain on the market, whether connecting to it with a wire or Bluetooth.

Horrified, I went to their website to learn more, and if your first thought upon seeing a system that shifts for you is "It's gotta be for triathletes" then of course you are correct:

The only group of people in the world who seem more averse to riding bicycles than triathletes are people who freak out over Citi Bike at community board meetings.

In case you were wondering, this thing costs $799.  I mean, if you hate shifting so much, just buy a cheap fixie off Bikesdirect and pocket the rest.

And of course we're not done sticking gratuitous electronic devices on stuff that doesn't need them, either.  Smart helmets, smart locks, and now, thanks to these little sensors, every single component and accessory has the ability to tell you that you suck:

The collected data is quite extensive, capturing not just how the rider pedals but even how much time they spend rocking the bike side to side:

It will also tell you how many cats you'll have and how long it will take your neighbors to find your body when you die alone.

The exception of course are pro cyclists, who live lives of glamor (until their inevitable fall from grace) and who get to sit next to movie stars:
You have to feel bad for Uma Thurman, who was no doubt rather unnerved to be seated next to a creature who is more hair product than man:

(NSFW, probably.)

Though I suppose it could have been worse:

That's the stuff of nightmares.

Friday, September 23, 2016

I give you permission to begin your weekend just as soon as you've finished reading this Citi Bike guest post. You're welcome.

That's right, today's post is over on the Citi Bike blog, so wrangle that tank of a bike from the dock, mount up, and let's go!

(Click on the link above, or on the picture, or here.)

By the way, this post cost the hardworking SUV owners of Brooklyn a tiny handful of parking spaces, so in your face, suckers!

Before his brain explodes someone should remind him his property values have risen by a like a factor of 20 thanks in no small part to all these infrastructure improvements.

Anyway, see you Monday!


--Wildcat Rock Machine

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Helmets--Oh Yeah, We're Going There!

Yeah, I know.  On the list of fun topics to discuss, helmets rank right in between politics and anal warts.  But don't blame me, because the media started it:

(Which is why pro cyclist injuries and deaths declined so steeply after the UCI instituted a helmet rule in 2003.  Oh, wait...)

A major study of bike helmet use around the world from more than 64,000 cyclists has found helmets reduce the risks of a serious head injury by nearly 70%.

The study also found neck injuries are not associated with helmet use and cyclists who wear helmets reduce their chance of a fatal head injury by 65%.

Wow.  Sounds conclusive, right?  Well, not so fast:

The compulsory wearing of bike helmets in Australia has long been a source of frustration for some cyclists, who argue it reduces participation rates. Previous studies have indicated helmet use encourages risk-taking behaviour or does not reduce serious injury to the brain.

But a comprehensive review by Australian statisticians Jake Olivier and Prudence Creighton from the University of New South Wales that drew together data from more than 40 separate studies found helmet use was associated with dramatically reduced odds of head injuries.


New South Wales, Australia!?!


In case you forgot, New South Wales is the possibly the most bike-hostile place in the world:

Gay, a member of the junior party in the Liberal-National coalition, is minister for roads for New South Wales, and has described himself as “the biggest bike-lane sceptic in the government”. The NSW government is about to get rid of a much-loved and much-used AU$5m (£2.4m) protected cycleway in Sydney’s city centre – a move Clover Moore, lord mayor of Sydney since 2004, describes as “a shocking breach of trust”.

And recently raised all of its bicycling-related fines into the stratosphere:

And that's not including the fine for not carrying ID while cycling, presumably so they can make sure all those other charges stick and you don't give them a fake name like "Mike Hunt" or "Flavius Scranus" in order to dodge the fine.

So yeah, I'm going to look askance at any research paper that comes from a place where the fine for not wearing a plastic hat is over $300--and doubly so when it's presented at a Finnish safety meeting:

The findings were presented in Finland this week at Safety 2016, the world conference on injury prevention and safety promotion.

Which sounds a lot like a euphemism to me:

Plus, what kind of safety conference has a ferris wheel?

Those things are dangerous!

Okay, well actually the ferris wheel Freds say they're not dangerous.  They probably just seem like they're more dangerous than they are to people who don't know anything about them--you know, like bicycles.  That's why I always wear a helmet when I go to the amusement park.

And while I'm striving for accuracy, I suppose it's not entirely scientific to deride a study just because it comes from a certain antipodean state with an anti-bike bias, or because I find the alliterative juxtaposition of Finnish safety meetings and ferris wheels to be conveniently amusing.  We need to look at the actual study, right?  Well sadly I can't, because it's behind a paywall and I'm not made of money over here (I'm made of high-modulus carbon fiber), so for the purposes of this blog we'll have to settle for the abstract:

Methods: Four electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, COMPENDEX and SCOPUS) were searched for relevant, peer-reviewed articles in English. Included studies reported medically diagnosed head, face and neck injuries where helmet use was known. Non-approved helmets were excluded where possible. Summary odds ratios (OR) were obtained using multivariate meta-regression models stratified by injury type and severity. Time trends and publication bias were assessed.

Okay, so they looked at a bunch of injured cyclists in various places--or, more accurately, articles and data about injured cyclists that other people have already collected and interpreted.  Now, how is it even possible to draw new conclusions about any of this data if you don't even know the total number of helmeted versus unhelmeted cyclists riding around out there in the general population?  And what were the circumstances that led to these injuries in the first place?  Isn't it possible the head injury odds they're presenting really just amount to statistical noise?

Well, maybe yes and maybe no.  But the danger here isn't the idea that helmets may offer you some additional protection from injury, which frankly sounds pretty reasonable to me, and which is why I wear them sometimes.  The danger is that these sorts of studies lead to conclusions like this:

Conclusions: Bicycle helmet use was associated with reduced odds of head injury, serious head injury, facial injury and fatal head injury. The reduction was greater for serious or fatal head injury. Neck injury was rare and not associated with helmet use. These results support the use of strategies to increase the uptake of bicycle helmets as part of a comprehensive cycling safety plan.

Funny how the conclusion is never  "make conditions safer for cyclists," isn't it?  But wait, actually it is--in an earlier paper about bicycle-related head injury trends in New South Wales, co-written by Jake Olivier, one of the very people behind this most recent study.  Indeed, in this earlier paper (WARNING: PDF) there's a graph showing a decline in head injuries--after increased cycling infrastructure:

The conclusion?  New South Wales needs more infrastructure development:
Not only that, but the paper also warns of the dangers of "meta-analyses" (which is what the most recent study is) and says that such studies can be biased when they relate to legislation:

"Results from mata-analyses should be interpreted with caution since ultimately, they are analyses of statistical studies rather than a large statistical study in itself and sample bias will always be present regardless of who is carrying out the analysis, particularly when it is related to a political agenda or legislation."

Yet this is exactly what this most recent study is--a meta-analysis being used in support of mandatory helmet laws:

The researchers cautioned that helmets were not a “panacea for cycling injury” and did not eliminate head or face injuries or offer protection to other parts of cyclists’ bodies. But it does make the case more difficult for those who oppose mandatory helmet wearing, they said.

“The legislation of mandatory helmets for cyclists is a controversial topic and past research on its effectiveness has been somewhat mixed,” the study said. “Irrespective of past research, the results of this review do not support arguments against helmet legislation from an injury prevention perspective.”

So sorry, but based on the researcher's own caveats in an earlier paper, I ain't buying it--nor do I understand why so many people pretend there aren't cities on Earth where people cycle safely in huge numbers and that helmets have absolutely fuck-all to do with it.

Instead of passing dumb laws and clobbering people with massive fines and presenting the media with dubious studies all we need to do is copy the cities where cycling actually works and that's that.

Speaking of helmets, in yesterday's post I featured the rider who commenter "bad boy of the north" subsequently dubbed "The Narwhal:"

(Thanks again for the photos, Aaron.)

And I was delighted to see that the Narwhal himself left a comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey! That's me - the narwhal.

I have a rearview camera under my seat that Bluetooths to my tablet on the selfie stick.

It works like a rearview mirror and record my rides from behind.

Thanks for making me famous, Bikesknob!

September 21, 2016 at 2:14 PM 

Though after reading it I have to admit I was even more confused.  After all, with any number of video recorders available out there in the marketplace--not to mention good old-fashioned analog rearview mirrors--one wonders why you'd endanger yourself and others by taping a golf club onto your head. 

But hey, he's wearing a helmet, so clearly he's 70% safer than I am!*

*(No offense to the narwhal by the way, I support whatever it is you're doing, and you make the world--or at least the Williamsburg Bridge--a far more entertaining place.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: The Cat 6-ing of a Lifetime

The coming of autumn means many things: kids go back to school, adults who still go to school go back to school also, the cyclocross dorks start futzing with their tire pressure in earnest...

More significant than any of these though is that as autumn approaches the Cat 6 racing season begins its crescendo.  See, once the weather becomes uncomfortably cold (and for the typical Cat 6 that's anything below like 60 degrees American) many of these riders hang up their out-of-true wheels for the winter.  This means the months of September and October represent their last chance at Cat 6 glory.  Once you factor in weekends, Jewish holidays, etc., the race days are scarce, so you can believe me when I tell you they're out there doing their very best to stuff their ill-fitting Chrome bags full of "wins" before scarf weather is upon us.

I of course am no exception, and yesterday I commuted by bike to Brooklyn and back, which from my abode in the far reaches of the northern Bronx is the Cat 6 equivalent of a brevet.  Leaving my home, I knew the racing action was going to be intense, but I didn't appreciate just how intense until I reached the midtown stretch of the Hudson River Greenway.

The light turns red.  I stop.  With the light in their favor, waves of tourists begin crossing the Greenway and filling the crosswalk in order to board one of those stupid Circle Line sightseeing boats.  Now, the tourists have the right of way, but this means nothing to a pair of oncoming Uber-Freds locked in mortal combat.  The first Fred is wearing full Team Sky kit.  Of course, the only thing worse than wearing full pro team kit is wearing full team kit but riding a bike from a company that doesn't sponsor that team, and naturally this rider is flagrantly guilty of this violation.  (He's riding a plastic BMC or something like that.)

On this Fred's wheel is an even Fredlier specimen (if that's even possible) wearing a pair of LiveStrong Oakleys and a RAGBRAI jersey, which was so breathtakingly Fredly I didn't even have the wherewithal to take in the rest of his wardrobe or equipment.

Anyway, the crosswalk is really filling up with tourists now--tourists who (and I can't stress this enough) fully and unambiguously have the right of way.  With morbid curiosity I watch, wondering just how the Freds are going to handle the situation.  Is Sky Fred going to lock up the brakes on his BMC and get rear-ended by RAGBRAI Fred?  Will those black-and-yellow optics then fly off his face and describe an arc through the azure late summer sky against the noble and inspiring background of the USS Intrepid?  Would the air then be full of the sweet, crunchy music of breaking crabon?

Sadly, no.  Instead, the Freds just keep right on going through the light and the crosswalk without so much as slowing down, like the pair of complete douchenozzles they were.

But these Frediotic exploits were merely a prelude to my return trip, where I received the Cat 6-ing of a lifetime from a true master of the discipline.

In the sport of New York City commuter racing, the East River crossings represent the hors cat├ęgorie climbs, and the approach to the Manhattan Bridge from the Brooklyn side is arguably the most technical and thus rewards the rider with some off-road skills.  See, there's the sweeping paved path that runs along the graffitoed wall, but there's also a dirt shortcut that runs straight up the grassy embankment:

You can see it more clearly in this aerial view:

As I made my approach to the bridge I knew this was the moment that would make or break my entire commute.  Sure, I could have saved precious seconds by scampering up the dirt path, but instead I stuck to the roadway:

This was because I was not riding a proper gravel bike, nor had I optimized my tire pressure for dirt, and a crash at this crucial juncture would put paid to my chances once and for all.

However, Cat 6 racing is not a discipline that rewards the meek, and the rider ahead of me--on a Citi Bike no less--had no such concerns.  Instead, he attacked the dirt shortcut harder than Chris Froome hits an asthma inhaler:

I thought for sure that there was no way he'd get that 50-pound corporate-branded beast up the hill, but to my utter surprise he appeared at the top just as I rounded the bend, thus setting off a Cat 6 explosion of atomic proportions:

Getting Cat 6--ed is a lot like sharing a subway car with a pervert: at first you try to convince yourself it's not happening, but sooner or later it becomes undeniable and you're forced to confront the horrible truth of what's happening.  On the subway this happens when the genitals make their first appearance, and on the bridge it happens when you realize the unmistakable sound of the Citi Bike drivetrain right on your wheel is simply not going away:

Note he's also got a rider right behind him, which means you're now looking at the podium, but which step each rider would occupy is anybody's guess at this point:

Now I should point out that, hyperbolized prose notwithstanding, my participation in this "race" was completely involuntary.  Furthermore, I wasn't exactly putting in a great deal of effort.  Nevertheless, as annoyed as I was I couldn't help being impressed that this guy was managing to stay on my wheel, and after some consideration I decided it had to be the flip-flops:

See, it was pretty hot out, and he was running cool, whereas my middle-aged guy sneakers were no doubt causing me to overheat slightly:

Whatever it was, by the time we reached the "summit" I'd grown annoyed enough at his close proximity to my rear fender that I was seriously considering breaking the unwritten Cat 6 rule by saying something to him, but cunningly it was at that moment he attacked and gapped me like a spark plug:

Then, using the considerable gravitational advantage of his Citi Bike, he disappeared completely leaving me to wallow in my shame--which I did until I reached the Manhattan side, and abandoned my shame in order to contemplate this:

I don't know what he was about to do on that thing, but it was clear I was leaving the bridge just in time, and I was relieved to finally reach the northern precincts of the city where life makes a little more sense:

Speaking of bridges, the Williamsburg Bridge is even more...vibrant than the Manhattan, and I received an email this morning from a reader named Aaron who spotted a rider there with a selfie stick taped to his helmet:

(Photos by Aaron, I'm assuming it's OK to use them.)

I don't know what he's doing:

But I sincerely hope whatever it is gets uploaded to YouTube very soon.