Cycling 101 – part 3 – Health Concerns

Welcome to part 3 of this blog series dedicated to getting started with cycling. In this instalment we are going to discuss the impact cycling has on health.

Cycling and health

As controversial as this sounds, in my opinion, cycling is not the greatest sport in relation to health benefits. Don’t get me wrong. It is a great way for people of all ages and abilities to be active and to spend time in the outdoors. However, it is also important to be aware of its possible negative effects.

Without a doubt one of the best known health benefits of cycling is the cultivation of cardiovascular capacity. Large muscle groups, like the quadriceps, get activated. That forces the heart and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscle tissues. That in turn has a positive impact on metabolism and triggers a series of beneficial hormonal responses. The mechanism described above increases energy expenditure, the burning of calories, which may help you lose weight.

Unfortunately, we often prefer to look only at the positives and not acknowledge the negatives. Cycling is not good for our posture. As a matter of fact, while cycling we are spending a substantial amount of time, often long hours, in a relatively static and unnatural position. While our legs are working hard, our torso and upper body remain almost motionless. In addition, our upper body is leaning forward, especially on road and racing bicycles. This puts a lot of pressure on our vertebrae, from L1 to S1. The more aerodynamically aggressive the position on the bike, the greater the pressure. This means that the condition known as sciatica or lower back pain is quite common among cyclists.

Now let’s talk about the upper body. When cycling hard we often tend to tense our shoulders, neck and jaw. It is known as “hugging the ears with the shoulders”. It is important to pay attention and keep the upper body relaxed. Failure to do so leads to neck and shoulder pain. Also the unnatural pressure on our cervical vertebrae can cause numbness in our hands and arms.

Finally, the saddle. Most cyclists recognize that prolonged time on the bicycle can result in a sore bottom. It’s commonly said that this discomfort is felt only for the first 1000 miles in the season. In reality, however, a saddle is the part of the bicycle that should be carefully chosen to match the cyclist’s body type and spacing between his or her sit bones. Failure to use the correct saddle results in damaging pressure applied to the soft tissue in the perineal area. This can lead to many serious conditions like numbness or erectile dysfunction.

Now let’s look at some simple measures to mitigate the potential problems described above. Firstly, I always say that riding a bicycle is not the best way to get in shape. Actually, you need to train and get in shape to ride a bicycle. While this statement might be an exaggeration there is more than just a grain of truth in it. It is especially important to develop a strong and flexible core. This muscle complex is of paramount importance for anatomical posture and support. A strong core will provide much needed support and stabilization for the spine. This in turn will prevent lower back pain, stabilize the torso and provide a stable platform that will help to relax the upper body.

Another important and often neglected step is to get a bike fit. It is often reduced to just setting the correct saddle height. That is insufficient. In order to enjoy riding your bicycle and to avoid injury you should get a professional bike fit. During the fitting, a professional will measure the position of your torso, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and head, while in motion. Along with your saddle height, he or she will adjust the stem length, the handlebars position, pedal alignment and many other aspects of bicycle geometry to match your body type and fitness level. For example, more flexible riders with a strong core can assume a more aerodynamic but demanding position. Riders with a lower level of fitness should be positioned more upright. Choosing the right saddle is also one of the key steps during the bicycle fit process. Note, that this step might take a few attempts and some kilometers ridden before a suitable saddle will be selected. The bicycle fit should be repeated at least every couple of years as our bodies and fitness levels are changing. A cyclist with a relaxed upright position, after a few years of training, might be able to ride in a more demanding position as their strength and flexibility improves. On the flip side, with age, riders might need to relax their position on the bicycle in order to enjoy cycling for many years to come.

Check back for part 4 of Cycling 101 in a few weeks and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next blog post.

 

Cycling 101 – part 2

Welcome to part 2 of this blog series dedicated to getting started with cycling.

Other equipment

Once you have your ideal bicycle there are a few things you need to buy to fully enjoy it. I would argue, that first and foremost you need to buy a helmet. In some parts of the world bicycle helmets are mandatory. Regardless of your local legislation, it is a good idea to wear one just for your own safety. The same goes for bicycle lights. Front and rear. With increased traffic and increasingly distracted drivers, bicycle lights are not only for nighttime. There are plenty of available day running lights that will make you visible to drivers from a distance of up to 2 miles.

You will also need a few things to maintain your bicycle, whether you are on the roadside or at home. First and foremost, you will need a pump and spare inner-tubes. Ideally you would have two pumps. A small one, that you can fit into the pocket of your cycling jersey, and a bigger one for convenient use at home. It is also a good idea to have tyre levers to help you change tubes. When out cycling, make sure you always have two spare inner-tubes, a pump, and tyre levers. If you are running tubeless tyres, you should buy a special pump capable of releasing an instant burst of air for tubeless tyre seating.

The final piece of must-have equipment is a multitool. Ideally it would have basic allen keys, a screwdriver, and a chain-tool. Sometimes you have to buy the chain tool separately. I learned the hard way how important it is to have one, when my chain broke while I was still 50 miles from home.

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Now let’s take a look at the rider. That’s you. In endurance sports, like cycling, hydration is one of the most important factors that determine performance. Even if you are not planning to push your limits, staying hydrated is important for your health. To be able to hydrate while on the bike, you will need a pair of water-bottles and two cages fixed to the bicycle frame to hold them. Initially you might get away with only one, but as soon as you start to embark on longer spins, a second water-bottle becomes very handy. And, don’t buy cheap bottles. Spend extra money on quality bottles made from BPA free plastic. They will not only last longer but will benefit your health and the environment.

Finally, get yourself a set of dedicated cycling clothes. Being a typical male, I will leave the discussion about fashion to someone more qualified. I just want to point out that quality, technical clothes, dedicated to the cycling discipline of your choice, will make you more comfortable and hence perform better. The benefits include things like moisture wicking, improved aerodynamics and better visibility on the road. Cycling shorts with chamois, for example, will help to massively reduce saddle soreness. If you are cycling off-road, you should consider getting additional body protectors for your knees or elbows. And, if you are riding those gnarly off-road trails I recommend getting full body armour to protect your spine and chest.

Check back for part 3 of Cycling 101 in two weeks and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next blog post.

Cycling 101 – part 1

When we first get into cycling it seems quite easy, as long as we already know how to ride a bicycle. After a while however, we discover that there is more to cycling than meets the eye. There are questions about safety, maintenance and other issues. Thankfully, experienced road men have already figured them out.

Choosing a bicycle

This seemingly simple task might quickly become overwhelming once we dig in to the variety of types of bicycles on the market. In general we can divide bicycles into the following categories:

Time trial bicycles – highly specialized bicycles used for racing against the clock. They are built to be as aerodynamic as possible often at the cost of adding more weight. Definitely not a bicycle you want to start with. The riding position is very demanding and use of the bicycle quite limited due to the way it is built. Outside of time trials they are also used in triathlons where the cycling leg is effectively nothing more than a time trial.

Aero bikes – road racing bicycles where the emphasis is once again put on low aerodynamic drag. They look more like your regular road bike and are much more versatile than time trial bikes. Their aerodynamic shape however, again, comes at the price of increased weight.

Climbing bikes – lightweight racing bicycles with the primary purpose of conquering those long and steep climbs. They are usable everyday bicycles and quite nice to ride due to their low weight. The gearing is adapted to climbing, so this type of bicycle might be a disadvantage in flat-road racing scenarios.

Endurance bicycles – The geometry of these bicycles is more relaxed, making them more comfortable to ride and easier to handle. The rider’s position is not as demanding, which allows for longer rides on roads with poor surfaces, without feeling tired after a mere 60 miles.

Gravel bikes – Here the geometry is becoming even more relaxed and the bicycle is even easier to handle. This type of bicycle is usually equipped with wider tyres. The build of these bicycles is sturdy and robust, so they can handle unpaved roads and trails. All that comes, of course, at the price of increased weight.

Cyclocross bikes – These bicycles have the qualities of gravel bikes taken up a notch with added handling capabilities for tight and twisty cyclocross courses. They are stiffer, which makes them less comfortable than gravel bikes. Also, their frame has a shape that makes it easier to shoulder the bicycle while running over obstacles.

Hybrid bikes / fitness bikes –  This is a general category of bicycles with quite relaxed geometry and typically straight handlebars (as opposed to drop handlebars) and wider tyres. They are not meant for racing or long demanding rides, but rather for casual, relaxing spins. They also make for good commuter bikes although the previously discussed types of bicycles would do just fine in that role (with the exception of TT bikes).

Touring bikes – These are the bicycle equivalent of camper vans. They are meant for long days and sometimes weeks of cycling. They are heavy but extremely robust. They have mounts for racks and panniers so you can take your camping equipment and other luggage with you.

Cross country bikes – Now we are entering the realm of mountain bikes. The cross country (XC) bike is the most versatile. This type of bike usually has a shorter suspension travel compared to other mountain bikes. XC bikes are lighter and suitable for climbing those steep mountain trails. They are also quite acceptable on the road, so if you need to commute before you hit that local trail, the XC bike is a great choice.

Trail bikes – These are heavier than XC bikes with longer suspension travel and slacker geometry, meaning the rider is positioned further back in relation to the center of the bike and the front wheel is further out in front. Still, they are suitable for some climbing but are most at home on long singletracks in the countryside.

Freeride / All mountain bikes – I lumped both of these types of bikes together as they represent a progression from the trail bike. The suspension travel increases, the geometry is even more slack, and they are less suitable for climbing. The emphasis is on the ability to perform big jumps and tricks while going mostly downhill.

Downhill bikes – a specialized machine for going downhill. That’s it. It is reflected in a very long suspension travel and lack of gearing for any type of climbing. Instead these bikes are equipped with large brake rotors to be able to stop effectively. The cool factor is high but stay away from this type of bicycle unless you want to take part in serious downhill racing.

That concludes my short breakdown of the types of bicycles available on the market. It is up to you, dear reader, to decide which would suit you best. Remember that nothing beats getting on a particular bicycle and trying it for yourself. If you have questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

Check back for part 2 in two weeks and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next blog post.

Catch and Release

The practice of catching a fish for sport, with rod and line, and then releasing it back to the water is known as Catch and Release. It has been discussed countless times in books, magazines, face to face conversations and on the Internet. Before writing this piece, I asked myself a question, “Does the world need another blog post about Catch and Release?”. My own approach to the practice has changed over time. That change has been due to personal experiences and to opinions expressed by respectable outdoorsmen. As a result, I decided to write about that change and hopefully challenge a few ossified opinions.

On many occasions, Catch and Release (C&R) is discussed from the perspective of an “ethical angler”. Proponents of the practice, quite often, unrelentingly criticize fellow anglers who take fish for the table. While I was certainly guilty of the latter, it was always my strong opinion, that C&R cannot stand on the grounds of ethics or morality. After all, we are sticking sharp hooks into a living creature and putting it through a torturous fight. Then, we remove the fish from the water and, while it is in a state of agony, we take photos of our grinning selves next to it. All that for our own enjoyment. Claiming moral high-ground for not killing it at the end is a bit hypocritical. C&R is purely a conservation measure, designed to protect fish as a renewable resource, while not completely denying anglers an opportunity to pursue their passion.

From the beginning of my journey as an angler, I could have been described as a hard-core C&R practicioner. It was because I realized that fish can be removed from the wild faster than they can reproduce. The evidence is easy to find. C&R was to me more of a matter of self interest than of ethics. I wanted to be sure that the fish would be there for my children and grandchildren. At that point in time, I refused to even consider killing a fish for any reason. And then… I was introduced to sea fishing.

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Any discussion about sea fishing, commercial sea fishing in particular, and conservation measures can quickly get political. Since this article is aimed at recreational anglers I will skim over issues of overfishing and commercial exploitation of fish stocks. Let’s just say, that the number of fish removed from the sea by recreational anglers is miniscule compared to the amount taken by the commercial fleets of the economic powers of the world. Therefore, releasing a fish into the sea, from the perspective of conservation, is meaningless. In addition, many species of marine fish suffer from barotrauma, the injury caused by being pulled up to the surface from the depth of the ocean. This makes successful recovery of the fish, after it is released, doubtful. Given both facts, the responsible sea angler can either stop fishing altogether or keep the fish for consumption.

It is important to mention, that there are species of saltwater fish, like the european sea bass, which are particularly vulnerable even though they are not targeted by commercial fishermen. In such cases C&R still makes sense as a conservation measure.

After experience with offshore fishing and analysis of its place and impact my non-negotiable position on C&R was somewhat relaxed. A few years later, I put my hands on the book by a famous hunter, outdoorsman and environmentalist Steven Rinella. Although the book is a collection of hunting stories, it has a chapter dedicated to Catch and Release. To my surprise, this conservation minded author was not fond of C&R. That initially surprised me or maybe even made me a little bit angry. I even recorded an episode of the podcast reviewing the book. Spoiler alert: the review is largely very positive. After reflecting on what I read, I came to the conclusion that Steven might have a point. In his opinion, angling like hunting, was primarily a way to get food. As human hunter-gatherers became less dependant on hunting thanks to the invention of agriculture, the role of hunting and fishing started to shift. It is somewhat bizarre, according to him, that we still practice fishing but somehow try to distance ourselves from its original purpose. It has even become unacceptable to fish for certain species in certain ways!

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Photo credit to TPE from Sea Bass Hunting

Hunters, unlike anglers, don’t have an opportunity to “shoot and resurrect”. Every animal has to be dispatched as quickly and humanely as possible and the meat taken care of. Conservation measures are implemented by means of closed and open seasons. The number of animals that can be harvested, as well as the time and duration of open seasons for particular species of game, are decided based on scientific data. Factors like the carrying capacity of an area, the breeding capacity of particular species, food availability, the harshness of winters and the presence of predators are all taken into account. Application of these conservation principles to angling makes more sense to me. Especially because the mortality rate of fish caught and released can be significant.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that Catch and Release has its place in modern sport fishing. It is a useful conservation tool but it’s significance shouldn’t be overestimated. If the numbers of fish are dwindling, before we impose C&R we should first look at habitat issues and commercial exploitation. If an angler engages in C&R he must take extremely good care of the fish that he releases. Yes, that means no trophy photos, unhooking the fish while still in the water and using barbless hooks.

As an angler, I have arrived at the point where I am okay to stop fishing when I have reached my bag limit. If conservation of the fishery is a priority, there are better ways to tackle that problem. For example, working with authorities to establish sustainable bag limits and closed seasons based on scientific evidence. This will be much more beneficial for protecting fish stocks and ensuring that we can still enjoy the taste of a just caught, fresh fish.

Safety in the outdoors

Taking on outdoor activities alone can offer a unique experience. Being able to focus on fishing, hunting, cycling or trail running without distractions provides an opportunity to enter a meditative state of mind and deeply connect with nature For that reason, many sportsmen prefer to spend time outdoors in solitude. But before you go out to hunt in the woods or fly fish from the rocks, all by yourself, you should take some basic safety precautions.

My friends and I spend countless hours in the outdoors, doing our thing, on our own. That often resulted in some hairy situations. This allowed us not only to better understand the dangers, but also to develop some basic practices. They could lower the risk or save our lives if things were to go sideways. In this short article, I would like to discuss some of those practices.

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Whenever you are cycling, running or swimming, there is a wide variety of GPS-enabled electronic devices at your disposal. These days, most of them can connect to your phone and transmit your location. Some of them even offer functions like crash-detection or fall-detection. In theory, they will trigger a notification to the phone number of your choice, about the emergency that has likely just occurred.

It might be a good idea to use this this type of technology. However, I would advise you to keep in mind a few things. These are usually simple consumer electronic devices, so they are not built or tested to be trusted with your life. They should be considered as bonus gizmos and not as the primary means of ensuring your safety. You will quickly find evidence of that while examining the user’s manuals. Nothing beats the old and still best method: tell someone trustworthy, a family member or a true friend, where you are going and what time you intend to come back. Make sure to inform them if you decide to change your plans. You can also agree up-front to an action they should take in case you do not make contact by the agreed time. Trust is a key factor here.

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Another good practice is to wear a bracelet or a tag with your name, blood type and emergency contact number. This simple item might be invaluable, in the event that something bad happens to you while you are with your friends. The likelihood that they will know your blood type is slim. Remember that having an ID with you is not the same. Reaching into your pockets might not be your friend’s first instinct while dealing with a likely stressful situation. Also, make sure that the information is well protected from the elements, eg. engraved or written with a waterproof pen.

I hope these simple tips will make you think about safety. I also hope you will never be in the situation that someone will have to make use of your tag or trigger an emergency procedure. Stay safe and I will see you in the outdoors!

Swarovski Optik

Before we start, this is not sponsored content. I am not being paid by Swarovski in any way or form. I simply want to share my thoughts after having had an opportunity to try a variety of Swarovski binoculars and scopes in the field.

Swarovski might seem like very expensive gear, but it represents something that is scarce these days and what I like to call “the old-days quality”. Way too often, we get conditioned to the disposability and the poor manufacturing and material quality of the devices we are using in our daily lives.

When we buy a Swarovski product, we are most likely buying it for life. Quite likely, the device will last beyond our own lifetime and will be passed on to our children and grandchildren. So you might be spending €1000 instead of €300 or €400, but the unit you are purchasing will last decades. In most cases, this makes the initial cost of purchase much more justifiable. It is worth mentioning, as well, that Swarovski’s support team pride themselves in taking good care of their products after sale. They will support their customers if they need their optics to be serviced, refurbished or, on rare occasions, fixed.

All of the above makes for low depreciacion in value over time, meaning that a pair of Swarovski binoculars, for example, can be sold after a long time very close to its original purchase value. In fact, there is a substantial market for used and refurbished Swarovski optics. All of the above paints a picture of a unique and high quality product brand.

To learn more about Swarovski products, listen to episode 9 of Tommy’s Outdoors podcast. If you like it, please rate us and subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or any other platform where you aggregate your podcasts.

Running for weight loss

The title of this article is a little misleading, as I don’t think that running is a good choice of exercise for weight loss. In my opinion, it is one of the worst ways to go about it. It’s important to note, I’m referring here to the type of running known as jogging and not to sprints, which are an entirely different type of physical activity.

It is common knowledge that to achieve positive results in any attempt at body transformation, consistency and persistence are the key factors. Unfortunately, these are more difficult to achieve with running than with most other types of physical activity. Compared to other types of exercise, to achieve tangible results, running requires a significantly bigger time investment. The risk of injury is higher and the results come slower.

To initiate the fat burning process in our bodies, while running at a slow to moderate pace, we need between 30 and 45 minutes. This means that if we run for one hour, we only get 20 minutes of fat burning activity. This inefficient process needs to be repeated week after week, month after month and yes, year after year. All of the above makes our running commitment hard to sustain, especially during winter months when the days are short and the weather doesn’t encourage us to go outdoors.

Running, together with powerlifting and crossfit, is one of the top three most damaging types of training. Running is also considered an impact sport, like boxing, football or hockey. The damaging effects are amplified by the fact that most people wanting to lose weight are, well, overweight, which puts even more load on their joints. For this reason at least 80% of people who run, sooner or later, end up with an injury.

Long distance running is one of the great classic endurance sports. I have no intention here to discourage anyone from trying it and developing a passion for it. However, if your goal is to control your storage body fat, there are much better and more effective ways to do that. My personal recommendation would be to try one of the many types of high-intensity workouts. They stimulate our metabolism in a way that extends the fat burning process beyond the duration of the exercise. There is no point taking on running, dreading it, and then only thinking about not having to do it anymore. In that situation you are more likely to stop doing it due to an injury, rather than to having achieved your goal.

To find out more about running and weight loss, check out episode 3 of the podcast where I talk with Mike Kissane, a seasoned marathon runner.