Category Archives: Cycling

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Donna Smyers on Sprint Triathlons in Vermont

A Sprint Triathlon is a user-friendly entry into the world of triathlons.

 If you’ve ever been at the finish of the Lake Placid Triathlon, or watched a documentary of the famous (infamous?) Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon, (Ironman World Championships held in Kona each year for those who have qualified), you’ve seen some graphic examples of human pain and exhaustion; physical, mental and emotional depletion.

You’ve watched masses of bodies on the run into the water, then off to bike and finally into running shoes for a grueling marathon finish. You’ve learned of countless miraculous conquests of individual athletes challenged by age, trauma, physical and mental limitations; individuals who have reached their goals – or not – in the face of unfathomable adversity.

Triathlons can be the theatre of heroics.

But, triathlons can also be within reach of the novice athlete and user-friendly. How can this be?

A triathlon comes in many shapes and sizes. The big daddy is the Full triathlon: 2.4 mile swim followed by a mere 112 mile bike race and ending with no less than a complete marathon, 26.2 miles.

The Half is just that. (The savvy call it the 70.3.) After a 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile ride, the run is sliced into 13.1 miles.

For most casual athletes, even the intermediate distances of the Olympic tri sound daunting: .93 mile swim, 24.8 mile ride and a basic 10k (6.2) mile run. These distances aren’t so bad unless you are actually racing them. (Note, many participants define their personal goal as simply to finish. Finishing = victory for some as much as coming in first = winning for others.)

The distances listed above are regulated and locked in, well, shall we say, iron? But, when it comes to the new darling of the triathlon world, the Sprint triathlon, distances vary at the discretion of the race organizers.

Sprint tris are growing in popularity for a very good reason: they are within reach of such a wide range of athletic ability that one can almost say that anyone can do them. Generally, the distances are: .5 mile swim, 10-12 or so mile bike, and roughly a 5k (3.1) mile run.

Going back to the notion that tris are user-friendly, consider this. Repetitive motions can result in overuse stresses, strains and injuries. Because training for a triathlon is divided by three, the risk of overuse injury is likewise diminished. Training for a Sprint triathlon, often provides a balanced means of challenging oneself that maintains mental, emotional and physical investment at an appropriate level and thus keeps training fresh and positive.

To learn more about Sprint triathlons, I spoke with Donna Smyers, a known and highly respected triathlete from Adamant, Central Vermont.

Donna Smyers, Beijing 2011

Donna Smyers, Beijing 2011

Smyers, a 30-year triathlete, has podiumed at Hawaii 12 times, 6 of which were age group wins. In 2014 she earned the title of National age group Champion at the Olympic distance, and World Champion at the Half-Ironman (70.3) distance. As her competitive career continues, so too does her role as coach, organizer of the Elmore Practice Triathlon Series and physical therapist.

For 20 years Smyers has treated her physical therapy patients with the same skill and commitment she dedicates to training for triathlons, marathons, time trials or cross country ski events. A glance at her academic credentials is enough to confirm her authority: BA and MS in Engineering from Dartmouth College 1979 and 1987, MS in Scientific Basis of Human Performance from University of Oklahoma 1991 and BS in Physical Therapy from University of Connecticut 1995.

The Elmore series is 9 years old. In Hartford, CT, Smyers was introduced to short distance and time efficient Sprint tris. “When I moved to Vermont, there was nothing at the time,” she said. Working in conjunction with the Green Mountain Multisport Triathlon Club, she eventually formed a Sprint series held at Lake Elmore State Park.

In 2007 there were six racers. Over the years the number has stabilized, but the group is small, both to conform to the State Park limit of 35 participants and to satisfy Smyers’ own preference to serve the purpose of this endeavor.

“I like the small size,” Smyers said. “It’s big enough to feel like a race but small enough to run with two to three volunteers per week.” Spectators and supporters cheer at transitions and the atmosphere is very personal.

“Elmore is the only low-key weekly triathlon series,” Smyers said. Others such as the Vermont Sun Series (scheduled for June 20, July 12, August 9 at Lake Dunmore) are a step up from the relaxed tris at Elmore (scheduled for June 11 and 25, July 9) that serve well as training for what may follow.

The practice aspect is significant. A series such as the one at Elmore offers an opportunity for the hesitant to “try a tri,” or for the seasoned to hone specific skills, rev up the competitive engine or simply race full-out, all wrapped in a friendly package.

Flexibility is the theme for Elmore events. This is a time for new participants to discover how they might react in a situation, yet remain safe in doing so. Participants may choose to do only one or two of the three pieces, swim, bike or run, and yet be a part of the series and enjoy the same preparation, performance and celebration as everyone else.

Elmore is sanctioned as a triathlon clinic. What does this mean? USA Triathlon is the governing body for triathlons in the U.S. and serves to nurture Olympians as well as provide a governing, insuring and promotional role for the sport. To say that Elmore is sanctioned means that the events are “insured and must abide by USA Triathlon rules which help maintain safety and awareness,” Smyers said.

NOW is the time to begin to train. Let’s look at three of the pieces of the tri pie.

SWIM. “People say ‘I could never do a triathlon.’ If you can swim, you can do a tri,” Smyers said. “You must learn how to swim.” Prep in a pool now. “Get a lesson. Technique is 90% of swimming.”

You need regular time in the water. Elmore starts early and you can’t wait until you can swim outside. Find a Masters’ Swim group such as the one offered by First in Fitness in Berlin.

Don’t forget that swimming in open water presents challenges of its own. Be sure to find a way to do so before your first triathlon. Even experienced swimmers might be surprised by unanticipated anxiety in a lake or other outdoor body of water. Develop confidence in open water. (Another advantage of the Elmore series is that the swim is short and much of the time the water is not over your head. Walking or running on the bottom, however, is not allowed for this event.)

Then there’s the matter of a wetsuit. Some wear them, some don’t. A wet suit helps to keep you warm and afloat; a benefit when wearing one, but a different experience without. Practice as you will race.

BIKE. Biking at Elmore this year offers the benefit of new paving. For 9.7 miles on Route 12, cyclists will bear the responsibility of dealing with traffic but will happily be able to ride their road or tri bikes instead of the sturdier tires needed for the past few seasons of poor paving.

The bike portion of a Sprint triathlon is short. “Maintain your fitness now,” Smyers suggests, “and go outside as soon as possible. It takes over a month of biking to get your bike legs.” A new triathlete should be able to ride several 10-15 mile rides. Putting in more time does not hurt. The “low risk of injury balances the benefits of speed and comfort gained.”

RUN. “You should be able to run 2-3 miles,” Smyers said. “Good (proper) shoes are critical.”

It’s worth repeating that training for a triathlon is more balanced and imposes less stress on the body than training for a single event. “If you get hurt in one sport,” Smyers said, “you can usually continue with the others so there is less frustration.”


-A weekly training plan could be as simple as visiting each element 2-3 times each week, spending extra time on your weakest sport. At least one session should be a long one. If the race takes 1.5 hours, you need to be able to go that long.

-A classic novice mistake is to overlook the importance of transitions, the 4th component of a triathlon. Practice the triathlon skill of setting up your transition area and then getting out of the water, out of a wetsuit by yourself (if you wear one), and onto your bike. (Most people don’t change clothes at all and just wear a tri suit or even a bathing suit for the entire event.)

The second transition is the one from bike to running shoes. Drink while you’re on the bike, not when you stop. Use elastic shoelaces or lace locks on your running shoes.Transitions are so important that a triathlon can be won or lost by seconds saved in transition time. Ironically it is the easiest event to improve.

-Swimming is technique-driven. Try to relax and you’ll be faster. Anxiety from the swim could remain with you for the rest of the race. Do not become anaerobic in your swim and you’ll be faster.

-Finally, honor your sprint triathlon. “People say ‘I didn’t do a real triathlon; just one of those little things.’” Smyers said. “If you don’t think it’s real, you don’t think Usain Bolt is a runner.”

For more information about the Elmore Triathlon Practice Series or Fixer-Upper PT, go to

Bespoke (Custom) Cycles

Every rider deserves a bike that fits, a bike that is made for him or her, a custom cycle.

I hurried out the door of the Seven Cycles factory in Watertown, MA, intent on beating Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. With visions of bicycles dancing in my head, I heard a voice with jovial Irish accent calling out to me. (It was near Boston, after all.) “Getting ready for the Tour de France,” he shouted, then laughed hilariously. Really.

Putting aside the obvious, (I have neither youth nor gender to compete in the Tour), what did he mean? I’m not good enough for a custom bike? And THAT is the misconception.

Just what is a custom bike? When you couple the words bespoke (made to order) and bike you have a custom bike. A stock bike (think Specialized, Trek, Canondale, LLBean; that long row of bikes hanging in your local sporting goods store) comes with frame already sized and materials already chosen for you. Your options include shop modifications to what is available and a range of prices based on materials and components.

A bespoke bike is built from top to bottom for a specific rider. Measurements and angles fit the individual, materials are selected from steel to carbon-fiber composite frames, titanium and even bamboo. Components, or the miscellaneous parts of the bike that transform it from a diamond-shape to a bike on wheels with gears and brakes, are pieced together in a way that completes the puzzle of the unique. Then there’s appearance where one can go wild with individualization.

Before I launch into the virtues of a custom bike, note my disclaimer. I am relatively new to cycling (5 years is new in a sport that lasts a lifetime) but passionate. I love the training as well as the freedom, the cycling buddies I have acquired as well as concerns. I am neither an accomplished athlete nor a couch potato and my 20s and 30s are far behind me. I have had surgery that makes cycling a better choice than running. My strength is endurance not power, my time is restricted by work and I am anxious about dangers. Yet I have goals and dreams that I hope to achieve.

Because of my love for cycling, I sincerely believe that ANY bike that provides enjoyment, that puts you on the road or the trail, is a good bike. Though a case can be made for the similar costs of a custom built bike and a high end stock bike, if one’s budget (or values) simply forbid a custom, well, so be it. Just get out there on whatever you’ve got and be happy.

After riding two stock bikes that simply weren’t right for me, I took the next step, a bike built to meet my specific needs.

I ride a Seven. (Note, Seven is just one of many reputable, excellent makers of custom bikes. I can speak from personal experience and so use Seven as subject.)   new fillyAn impeccable bike fit by Ian Buchanan at FitWerx in Waitsfield along with his perfect guidance in selecting the right components, resulted in a bike that is unpretentious but, from the first pedal stroke, confirmed the wisdom that a bespoke bike is the way to go for some, for those of us who can define what we need in a bike, can assess what is wrong with the stock bike that we are riding, and how much we are willing to invest in time, effort and budget. Until you know what you are looking for and are willing to prioritize, you’re not ready.

Seat Post

Seat Post

If I had to summarize in one word what my new Seven has given me, it is confidence. This confidence is the result of an ongoing process, but the bike sure helps.

Seven Cycles is know for the select, high-end frames built in their small New England factory. Are these bikes built only for the competitive cyclist or the super rich? More and more the answer is a resounding “NO.”

“Custom is not about the pro,” Rob Vandermark said. Vandermark, founder and president of Seven Cycles, is also inextricably involved with product development, always searching for the next bike, the next use.

“A custom bike is much more than just fit,” Vandermark said. “It is a path to being a stronger climber, riding that first century or 3-day tour, avoiding injury. It is a path to making the best possible [cycling] experience.”

Custom drives performance, comfort and safety. Performance defines custom.

Anyone who spends hours in the saddle, who can’t wait to get outdoors to ride, whose passion fuels the necessary effort and whose idea of heaven is balanced on two wheels, deserves a custom bike, one that is built specifically for him or her.

Building a bike customized to an individual is a team effort. “Fit is a small slice,” Vandermark said, “10% of the value. For the majority, rarely is fit the primary driver. It’s more about use.” Also important to customers is paint and appearance that makes the bike unique.

While I understand what Vandermark is saying, and certainly he knows his customers, I find that here on Vermont roads and in our cycling community, fit is very important. Perhaps, however, we are saying the same thing.

Fit is more than measurements. Fit is a rider profile of body type, age, fitness, athleticism, flexibility, strength, goals, type of riding, where, how often and even attitude. (Is the rider competitive or recreational, audacious or timid, brazen or anxious?) Perhaps this is, after all, what Vandermark calls “use.”

A committed rider “deserves” a bike designed and built to address his needs, wants, apprehensions and strengths. Such a bike helps that rider to achieve success, maximize time and enjoyment, and ride in such a way that his body functions harmoniously throughout hundreds of thousands of repetitive pedal strokes.

To write in detail about building a bike, I would need to write a book. It’s been done. I recommend Robert Penn’s “It’s All About the Bike.” Penn writes in eloquent detail about the frame, the soul of the bike, as well as the components, materials and design of his dream bike. He dismisses bragging rights about weight, but speaks convincingly of the geometry of the frame that “sets the parameters…Get the geometry of the frame wrong and you could end up with a bike that is at best uncomfortable, and at worst, dangerous to ride. Get it right, and the bike will have the handling characteristics you desire.”

At Seven Cycles, for example, Five Elements of Customization are clearly spelled out. Fit, includes comfort and injury management; handling and performance means that the bike is tuned for the way you are going to ride; tubing and materials are tailored to meet the riders’ needs; there is an infinite array of features and options from which to choose; and finally, the future. How well have you planned for years down the road?

Where a bike is built from the beginning, there is no stock, no inventory. At Seven Cycles, employees (clearly cyclists; note the “commuter parking lot,” an eclectic collection of bikes parked in the backroom) work with one bike at a time from start to finish, conception to shipping room.

Because I was already in love with my bike, my visit to the Seven factory (tours are available to anyone who wants to schedule) was not needed to convince, but to inform and confirm. It did. There’s nothing slick about this place. Thankfully. It is a place in which men and women are artists and take seriously their role in making dreams possible. A bike begins with a box of unrecognizable things and a manila folder with specs and notes pertaining to that one and only bike-to-be. From step one the contents of the box/folder become an identity. The resulting frame is meticulously crafted, painstakingly checking alignment and welding perfection until, in the final analysis, the frame is inspected and tested by “The Enforcer.” If any part is found wanting, there is no patch. The build begins again.



Vandermark, engaging, enthusiastic and immediately comfortable, brings to Seven Cycles a mix of savvy yet ardent practices and technical skills. His own background as a sculptor and mountain bike racer drive the confluence of art and science in both his bike and business design.

It is foolish to think that a bespoke roadbike frame is the total story. In fact, Vandermark has cycled his way along routes from city traffic to the open roads, from deep woods and challenging trails to racing and casual sojourns. Based on personal experience, and always open to new horizons, Vandermark has designed bikes to accommodate a variety of purposes and riding styles. From road and mountain bikes, to cyclocross, gravel, and future travel bikes, Vandermark keeps his proverbial finger on the pulse of cycling trends. And each is built for the individual.

A candidate for a custom bike must be willing to make informed choices. A bespoke bike has a price tag. For some it might be equivalent of a monthly mortgage payment, or possibly even the cost of the entire house that one’s grandparent purchased way back when.

Extravagantly selected options could lead to an unaffordable purchase. On the other hand, the custom process allows a rider to weed out the extras that are inappropriate or irrelevant. For example, on my own bike I reduced the cost by eliminating a paint job, and choosing components that are sufficient to meet my needs and no more.

Furthermore, an avid cyclist often lusts for new and different bikes. Once one is built for him or her, there is no need to keep shopping. Perhaps, in the long run, a bespoke bike is the economical approach after all.

But, the bottom line is choice. If riding is what you choose to do and what inspires and gladdens your heart, giving yourself the best possible experience with a custom bike might just be the sugarplum that dances in your head during this and every cycling season to come.


Changing seasons remind us to keep training varied and balanced.

photo 3 September in New England brings mixed messages of the advent of autumn juxtaposed on the lush remnants of summer. For many, colder temperatures, brisk winds and often gray days trigger the desire to spend more time indoors or, at the very least, move from the roads and wide-open spaces into the shelter of woods.

I find my passion for cycling declines proportionately to shorter days and the layering on of more and more gear. If motivation tanks, is that all wrong? Probably not. It is vitally important to change the scope and intensity of training throughout the year, perhaps to let the seasons themselves guide us into the next phase of an annual periodized training plan.

Joey Adams, M.S. Exercise Science, Metabolic Specialist, Coach Extraordinaire, and caring friend to his athletes, recently emailed this reminder:

Greetings Athletes,  

Fall has finally fallen in Vermont and for many of us (except the cross country skiers) the “off-season” is beckoning. That simply means it is first and foremost rest and recovery time.Secondly, it is time to “change things up.Diversify your training – try something new – relearn something – challenge your body and your mind.Third, it means sitting down and writing out what went well this year and what are your opportunities to improve your training.Make your weaknesses your strengths.

This is where a test at this time of year will help you capture your hard fought fitness AND help you re-focus as you look towards your next season.The fall is often the best time to dial in your new zones … fitness should be a personal quest to become one’s best, based upon personal assessment and needs. www.  “Getting workouts on target and making your time count.”

If VO2Max testing, RMR or Watts measurements for your Power Meter are in your future, now is an excellent time to wind up one season and head into the next with structure and guidelines as well as legitimate (sanctioned?) time to rest, rejuvenate, play and have fun. If you ride – walk. If you run – hike. If you compete on water – head for turf. If you go hard – go easy. It’s a healthy refresher to go out unplugged now and then, walk the dogs, play with the kids and take a look around you – the arena in which you live, work and train. Training will not suffer; it will thrive.Athletes waiting, Tunbridge World's Fair 2014      Even these athletes awaiting their turn know how to take a break.  Tunbridge World’s Fair, 2014. Horse Pulling Contest.


Sometimes I pick up a book or a magazine that just seems to resonate with me or say just what I need to hear. This time it was a magazine.

Last Tuesday it rained. Somehow it often rains, or threatens to rain, on one of my favorite midweek afternoons. On Tuesdays my group ride, RoadSpokes 201, congregates at about 5 and heads out on the roads by 5:30 p.m. It is an amazing group of a variety of riders who join together simply to ride, to enjoy having company, and to train a little and/or learn a little.

Usually by Tuesday I have sent out an email with a suggested training plan or principle to think about and use. Or not. This time, however, it had looked like our ride was destined to be cancelled. On my way to the parking lot, I grabbed an August Bicycling Magazine that had just arrived in my mailbox.

Well, wouldn’t you know, it cleared up and by 5 riders began to arrive. I needed something to share. I opened Bicycling and found the perfect article on riding in the heat. Here is some of what I learned and shared:

1. A handy formula for riding in the heat and perhaps cutting back in intensity (giving yourself “permission” to do so?) is to add the temperature to the relative humidity. If the total is 130 or more, dial back. When we rode Tuesday it started out as 85 degrees with relative humidity of 55. We started with a nice ride out and then picked up the pace for a fun and fast ride. Great ride:)

2. When preparing for an event (like the OR Century), and especially if you anticipate hot and humid weather, consume fluids liberally throughout the entire preceding week.

3. Be sure to include a combination of carbs and protein in your post ride fuel – not only is protein needed for repair, but it also helps hold replenishing fluids.

In the Know How section, there was a great article, Keep It Simple, dispelling the myths of perceived hard and fast “rules” used by the pros. “Alison Tetrick of Team Twenty16 explains what makes sense in the real world.” For example: if you’re riding with friends and feeling great (or not great), ditch your training plan and enjoy the day.

 “Ride for four or more hours multiple days a week. Do this instead. You probably don’t have unlimited spare time, and unless you’re training for a big-mileage event, you don’t need to put in endless hours of pedaling week in and week out. Maintain or improve our fitness by building high-intensity efforts into rides of an hour or two. Go to to choose from a variety of intervals that will make you stronger and faster.”

On the other hand, on another page, Bill Stickland quotes from a forgotten source: “Ride for at least 30 minutes a day. If you’re too busy to do that, you better ride for an hour.”


 Perhaps my fav, however, is “Small Mercies,” a piece by Heidi Swift for her regular column JOY RIDE. In it she tells of incidents when she was struggling on a ride, being dropped or fighting wind. Each time another rider(s) returned to help her finish. Referring to each, she concludes: “…reminded me of my humanity-of our humanity-that who we are and how we behave on the bike is simply an amplified version of who we are in the world. That our bicycles can transport us and transform us-but that they can also crack us open and lay us bare and force us to be raw and honest and exposed. That we can choose in the worst moments to treat each other with compassion and that maybe, as cyclists just as with other people, we are really only as good as our last small act of mercy.”

For many, if not most, of us, riding is about so much more than being first. Performance matters. But it is the process, the shared dreams and goals and fears, the small accomplishments, the tiny victories along with the seemingly large defeats, and the people, that matter most.

Perhaps it is what cycling is all about. It is work, hard work. It is learning and training. It is exposing oneself to things that scare us, things that can break us. It is baring oneself to vistas and emotions that can only be seen and experienced from a bike. It is a climb, an opportunity to grow, to enlarge, to find patience and strength you did not know you possess. It is a downhill, a release, a shout of pure joy, abandon. It is motivation, dedication, endurance. It is real life played out on a small saddle on two skinny tires.

RoadSpokes is the proverbial pebble dropped into the pond. By meeting and riding weekly, we connect, make friends, find cycling partners for other times, other routes, other training. We adhere strictly to a no-drop policy. Encouragement and camaraderie flows freely, stories are swapped and advice is exchanged.

Yes, riding alone can be beneficial and a privilege; as one rider recently dubbed it, a “zen” ride. But there’s nothing like meeting up with, riding and then celebrating our sport and our friends. I wish you both, along with miles and miles of safe and happy memories.

just do it

Recently I wrote a short piece for ACTIVE VERMONT, my page in the Rutland Herald/Times Argus Sunday newspaper, that sparked interest and generated comments from a number of readers.  Clearly we all suffer from the same reticence to perform certain deeds,complete particular training plans or take the steps needed to meet goals. Several have told me that they connected with this concept, they aspire to the notion that sometimes we need to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” (wherever did that saying come from? surely it’s obsolete but we get the point), and, well, just do it.

July is a month packed with notable sports that lure us to the home screen. Wimbledon Tennis (June 23-July 6);  FIFA World Cup Soccer (June 12-August 13); Tour de France (July 5-27); MLB All-Star Game (July 15); British Open (July 17-20): and surely more draw us like magnets to a cooler indoor setting and a comfy chair. That’s fine. There’s room in our days to spectate as well as participate. There’s a place for R&R, team spirit, camaraderie, and some level of motivation that sneaks in the back door when playing the observer position.

But, don’t forget, there are always two sides:  left and right, forward and back, offense and defense, (we’ll leave right and wrong off this field), and, of course, spectator and participant. Sometimes to assume the latter role one needs a push, to “just do it.”  Read on.

 Just do it. I say it often. I say it to my clients when I ask them to do a particular training exercise and they look at me with that are-you-nuts look. I say it to myself when I am dragging and need to walk into a room and appear energetic and encouraging to a group of individuals who are unsure about their fitness commitment. I say it when I sit down at my computer after a long day and know that I must say something significant in response to emails, post a blog or write my Sunday Active Vermont page. Sometimes I say it before my treasured training rides or even when the alarm goes off.

It works. JUST DO IT (stylized in all caps), coined by Nike in 1988 by Dan Wieden of Wieden and Kennedy ad agency, has become the go-to motivator for a large cross section of the world’s population. Last summer the slogan celebrated its 25th anniversary as one of the most recognized and often uttered phrases in all time. Remember, this was before the media and digital explosion erupted in texts and tweets, before “going viral” was a model.

JUST DO IT is more than a means to sell running shoes and appeals to far more than runners. The phrase is simple and invites definition. It is individual, offering a very personal connection.

In fact, the story of the inception of the phrase demonstrates the simplicity of the time as well. It seems that in an early ad, 80-year old Walt Stack jogged across Golden Gate Bridge. While doing so he shared tales of his daily 17mile run and quipped that in the winter he kept his teeth from chattering by leaving them in his locker.

Smith Rock is a well-know climbing mecca in Oregon that attracts climbers of many levels and abilities. In 1992 a French climber, Jean-Babtiste Tribout (known as J.B., born in 1961) scaled a route that had not previously been climbed. He named the ascent “Just do it.” Today that route is rated as a 5.14. Its overhanging wall is known as the most difficult climbing in America.

Is there a connection between Smith Rock and Nike? Presumably it is merely coincidental, but the spirit is the same.

Perhaps that is the magic of JUST DO IT. It is a sentiment that works for each of us; it easily rolls off the tongue. Basic or erudite, the concept can be found in any collection of memorable quotes. For example: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (H.Thurman, African-American writer).

Or: “Do it no matter what. If you believe in it, it is something very honorable. If somebody around you or your family does not understand it, then that’s their problem. But if you do have a passion, an honest passion, just do it.” (Mario Andretti, and we all know who he is.)

Often there is no right or wrong, no hard and fast rule, no all or nothing. Often there is “just do it.”

didn't get lost on this century

didn’t get lost on this century


  photo-2Cycling on the road requires vigilance and almost intuitive awareness. In addition to working hard to maintain speed (and not get dropped by companions) and working even harder to climb (especially if you live in hill country like I do – Vermont), we cyclists also need to guide our skinny tires away from cracks and potholes, anticipate terrain changes in order to refrain from popping a chain, know where oncoming and following traffic is at all times (hard to rely on hearing with the new quiet cars) and ride predictably to give motorists a few guidelines.

We need to carefully plan rides (especially for those of us who get lost easily and really don’t want to backtrack over that climb), prepare well for emergencies (tires and tools, energy bars and waters), and, of course, the inevitable surprise rain shower or drop in temperature.

This past week, for example, one group ride was cancelled due to rain, black skies, and forecasts of everything from hail to tornados. As luck would have it, at ride time the rain stopped and none of the other things occurred.  However, best to be on the safe side. We did not ride. The  next day appeared to be gray but decent – until we got about 3 miles from the start, realized the roads were wet and we were wetter. What is the moral of this story? There is none. Plan as carefully as possible and then be flexible enough to deal with reality, I guess.

There are some things I did learn this week however.  Wet roads do not necessarily mean that narrow bike tires are destined to slide out from under the rider.  Of course, when faced with wet roads it is important to ride conservatively, avoid the slippery painted lines and don’t choose that day to practice cornering aggressively.  Other than that, you should arrive back at the start without incident.

Then there are those sunny days.  If one comes along, drop everything and add a just-for-fun ride.  I am accustomed to riding purposefully and considering each ride as a training ride. I do realize,  however, that some days it is equally important to ride unplugged – leave the heart rate monitor or power meter numbers out of a casual jaunt. Even more, take the time to stop now and then to check out the scenery.  Sometimes I ride along and, out of the corner of my eye, note the redwing blackbird that sits on the sign at the side of the road clearly standing guard over a nearby nest. I might smell the scent of fresh cut grass or notice the proliferation of wildflowers tempted to stop to take a picture of a common field made brilliant by dandelions.

It’s ok to do that, you know.  With most of us carrying smart phones, a nice camera is sitting in a jersey pocket. This week I rode past a sight so familiar to me that I took it for granted, until I noted the way the light was cohabiting with  the shadows (photo above). While I may not know what my average HR was on that ride or what watts I used going uphill nearby, I will remember this view. Now, as my computer wall paper, it reminds me to go ahead, ride unplugged and don’t miss the scenery – at least once in awhile.



POST FROM FRANCE, Riding with Andrew McCullough

Being a road cyclist in Vermont isn’t easy.  I say this with reluctance though because it seems counterintuitive. The fact is, there are no other places where I would rather ride my bike.  From quiet country roads to more daunting mountain passes, Vermont offers a wide range of road riding for every interest level.  Throw in fantastic summer and fall months, and top it off with our friendly and active communities, I would expect a perfect recipe for road riding culture. Despite these facts, it’s still difficult.

I grew up in Montpelier, and started riding my bike at a really early age; mostly mountain biking.  Most of my friends didn’t ride though.  Nobody wants to ride their bike alone all the time, so inevitably I began to ride less and less as I grew older.  However, around 7th grade, my dad got me my first road bike.  It was a white steel Specialized Allez found in the basement of the shop.  It was gorgeous!  He had been riding road bikes for a long time, and this gave me the opportunity to ride with him.  After getting over the initial shock of being stuck on two 23mm wide tires, I began to fall into step quickly.  Because of his work schedule our rides were still limited to mostly weekends, and if I wanted to ride more I had to go on my own.  This meant navigating the open roads by myself, and I quickly fell victim to the one route routine; route 2 west.  It was what I knew, and what didn’t get me killed.  So I stuck with that, too nervous to expand my riding to other roads.  That became a bit stale after a while.  Meanwhile, my friends were still doing other activities.  So, inevitably, my riding remained inconsistent.  Cycling had its moments though.  A few years in a row I traveled up to Montreal with a small group from Onion River Sports, and participated in the Tour de l’Ile, a 50km grand fondo that brought out more than 20,000 cyclists.  One summer during high school I spent two weeks touring around Nova Scotia by bike with a group of friends, tenting each night wherever we ended up at sunset.  On more simple days my Dad and I would just ride out to Richmond and have a break at the bakery before returning back to Montpelier. It was these experiences that kept me hooked, always wanting more.

At the start of high school I turned my attention to running, and remained focused on track through college.  It was only on rare occasions when I was looking for longer training hours and needed a day off from running that I would bring my road bike out.  It wasn’t until I returned to Montpelier after college that my attention shifted back to cycling.  I don’t know what started it exactly, but something clicked, and I was loving it.  Although on the smaller side, there was a great group who I could rely on to train with at least a few days each week.  We fed off of each other’s motivation, and found ourselves riding more and more each day.  In no time at all, I was riding roads and loops that I had never once considered trying when I was younger.  I was exploring parts of Vermont that I had never been to before.  Within a month or two of starting, I was racing twice a week.  Within a year, I was racing every weekend in races all over the country and Canada.  Months raced past in a blur of excitement and captivation.

Despite falling into cycling so quickly that first year, there were some basic road blocks to racing and training that made things far from consistent.  Having set some lofty goals for results, I was process driven and focused.  That meant that my daily training didn’t necessarily jive with the few other people who I had been accustomed to riding with.  When I wanted to go hard, they wanted to go easy; and when I needed to rest and go easy, they needed to go hard.  With limited groups to ride with, this meant back to more time riding alone during the week.  When Thursday or Friday rolled around and it was time to get to the race, I would rarely have a drive that was less than 4 hours.  The few of us from town who were racing would carpool to races as much as possible, but a majority of the trips would be solo.  When I began to target larger races, I was usually driving 7-8 hours if not flying.  Once again, it was clear that being a road cyclist in Vermont is not easy.

I am extremely fortunate to be riding for a Division II amateur team in Brittany, France for 2014.  I arrived at the beginning of February, and our season started February 15th.  Every part of this experience has been incredible.  Every part of life here seems to include cycling.  Every town or village has at least one finish line painted on the road somewhere near its center.  Every hill has a mountain sprint line painted across the road at the top.  There are races 3-4 days out of every week, at the least, and all are within a reasonable drive.  Every one of these races is in the heart of French cycling, and the level of competition is always outstanding.  Outside of racing, when you ride your bike down the road, everyone says hello to you.  There is the occasional erratic driver, but for the most part people here respect and support cyclists. All of this amounts to one basic difference that seems to separate life as a cyclist in Vermont and life as a cyclist in Europe; support and organization.  Here in France, clubs support riders beginning as early as 6 years old.  The riders of past generations remain heavily involved in the sport after they retire, and this means new generations have experienced professionals to turn to for guidance.  Local governments sponsor regional teams and youth development.  The infrastructure of roadways protects and encourages bike use.

1798809_10202804632818502_1052231828_n Team in Basque country 2014.

Riding my bike in Vermont is one of the most pleasurable things that I know.  But throughout my experience with riding in the Green Mountains, there are certain obstacles that have the potential to stop somebody in their tracks.  These are serious, but most are easily overcome if you get the right guidance and support.  This might mean providing route recommendations and group riding rules to new riders who are nervous about interactions with cars and other road hazards.  Or, it could extend to include advice for training and racing.  It’s exciting to see the riding community in Montpelier and Vermont growing, and how much potential it has.  The organization and growth of local clubs like Road Spokes, youth development such as Killington Mountain School or 1k2GO, and fantastic race promotion by locals like Gary Kessler and Jean Lacroix with Green Mountain Stage Race, Killington Stage Race, and Barre Grand Prix all mean that Vermont will finally begin to see the benefits of this organization and support.  When that support becomes readily accessible, people will be doing more on the bike than they expected or planned in no time at all.  If you are new to road riding and there is something that you think is holding you back, I can guarantee that 100 other people who have probably had the same anxiety at some point.  Now, more than ever, it’s easier to turn to one of the many people who are part of cycling in central Vermont to help get you rolling in the right direction!


Andrew and I met through Onion River Sports.  Over coffee, I learned a bit about Andrew’s background and future goals.  Not surprisingly, as a member of our local cycling community, Andrew hopes at some point to be able to give back to others traveling similar roads.  Fortunately for us, RoadSpokes, Andrew has joined us – albeit from a distance – and is sharing his experience, insights, training and camaraderie.

Yes, Andrew will be here to ride with us in person when there is a break in his training and racing schedule in France and he is home for a visit.

More importantly, however, Andrew is with us now – ready and willing to answer questions and offer support to members of RoadSpokes and visitors to this website.  He knows our terrain, traffic and challenges.  Been there; done that.  He knows road cycling inside out and backwards. He is eager to connect with us individually and/or collectively.

What would you like to know? Do you want to learn more about racing in Europe or in our area? Do you want to learn how to plan to ride your first or best century? Do you want to strategize a time trial or wonder which shoes to buy? Do you want to know if cyclists cross-train with conditioning and if so what? Would you be curious about his weekly training schedule or would you like Andrew to suggest one for you and your specific goals? Ask.

Read his post to learn more about Andrew.  Look for updates of his travels and answers to FAQs or your specific question(s). Leave a question for Andrew by COMMENT on this post or email me ( and I’ll connect you. Read on.



“You may remember your first childhood bike. Once those training wheels were gone, you were a new kid; you were INDEPENDENT. You could hop on your bike and go where you wanted.

Your first bike was a gift from your folks, a hand-me-down, or purchased at the then equivalent to Toys-R-Us. If you were lucky, you got to go pick out your own bike at a local sporting goods store. To you, color was most important. The selection process was most likely simple: you fell in love with one, an adult checked to see if you could reach the pedals and the handlebars and, if you were really lucky, you got to put a bell on your bike and maybe even a basket or some cool decals.

What’s wrong with this picture? Very little. Perhaps the most important thing about kids and their bikes is that they get outside and they play. Early riding is more about play and games and tricks than it is about logging miles.

Now that you are an adult, the scenario may be quite different. If you own a bike, you respect it, you take care of it and you might even baby it. You may ride for fitness, recreation, competition or simply to get to and from work. In any event, you are logging miles. When you consider the number of times your legs go around in circles on a given ride, you begin to suspect that how they go around could be very important. It is. For cycling safety, comfort, efficiency and effectiveness, bike fit is the yardstick as well as the foundation of your experience.

What is bike fit? I asked Ian Buchanan, Founder of Fit Werx in Waitsfield. “It is a way of making sure a body will work on the bike,” Buchanan said. It’s all about you, the rider, your biomechanics, your technique. When what is uniquely individual about you: your strength, flexibility and attitude, are married to the mechanics of the bike, you free your potential to soar.” (to read the complete story, see the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, Active Vermont, Sunday, May 4, 2014)

fitwerx linda

Recently I had the privilege of spending a morning with Ian Buchanan at Fit Werx in Waitsfield. (pictured above – photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur) Yes, Ian, an experienced and very well respected professional bike fitter, fit my current road bike to me. But, my hours spent with Ian were packed with unintended benefits.

For one thing, I had to deeply consider myself. I needed to think hard about who I am, where I come from and where I hope to go as a cyclist. (Perhaps first I had to consider myself a cyclist. Always a bit self-deprecating, I needed to take a big gulp to even say the words.) I needed to recognize my strengths (yes, there are a few) and my weaknesses (sigh). Above all I had to say “I’m worth this,” and believe it. (I’m still working on that one.)

I’m worth WHAT, you may say? Ok, there is a fee involved and, if one pursues a better bike fit and ultimately a bike more suited to one’s body, fitness and goals, there is an even larger investment. But the cost is not all in dollars and cents. Part of the cost is in definition. One must recognize that he or she IS already a cyclist, spends hours in the saddle, rides for many miles, and can identify cycling as his or her go-to passion. After that, the rest becomes a matter of organization.

Establishing goals, a bucket list, begins the process. Structuring a means of reaching those goals and then paying the cost of energy and dedication comprises the continuing journey. The payoff is in finding sheer joy in riding, companionship and a sense of accomplishment. Byproducts include a more fit and healthy body, strength, endurance, self-discipline and a sense of what can only be experienced as happiness.

A bike is a partner, an extension of the rider. It must fit perfectly. We’re talking mm here. The many pieces of a bike can be tweaked and maneuvered into the form that best matches the skills, flexibility and size of the rider. If I learned only one thing during my bike fit session, I learned that IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RIDERS. It’s personal, individual and as complicated as each rider. Complexities, however, can be resolved and reworked into an efficient whole.

My bike fit was surprising and motivating. I was surprised to learn that some of the discomforts that I had assumed were simply a part of riding (“just get over it”) were, in fact, indicators of inappropriate fit. As the bike fit procedure progressed I learned more and more about my own specific pedal stroke and cycling technique and left motivated to reach new levels of ability.

Is a bike fit for everyone? Yes. If you ride, you should ride a bike that is suitable for you. Whether you are mountain bike, cyclocross, hybrid, or roadbike-specific, your bike should fit YOU.

Bike fit is not a candidate for the DIY generation. For my road bike, I chose to visit Fit Werx and was not disappointed. Some bike shops in the area offer bike fit. My recommendation would be to seek a certified professional bike fitter. (Aaron Bilsing at Onion River Sports in Montpelier has recently certified as a bike fit specialist.) Of course, there is variation within the profession but it’s a good place to start. In any event, do it. Now at the beginning of the season is a great time. It may take a few weeks to adjust to a newly fitted bike, but it’s worth the effort. You will eventually see changes in performance and comfort, i.e. overall cycling experience.

RoadSpokes 2014 with Onion River Sports

April 16, 2014

RoadSpokes will begin, weather permitting, May 6th and 7th. For the season Formerly Cycling 101, RoadSpokes is the same concept with a different look.

This year RoadSpokes is a club. Visitors are welcome, but in order to receive additional benefits, riders have the option to join. See below for details.

Riders are encouraged to purchase a RoadSpokes jersey (beautifully designed by Carrie at ORS), to train for all or part of the Onion River Century Ride on Saturday, July 26th, to form friendships and find compatible riding buddies for rides other than midweek and to observe responsible cycling practices at all times. Remember; when you ride you demonstrate what is best about the cycling community in Central Vermont. You represent RoadSpokes, Onion River Sports, and, in fact, all of us.

A well-maintained bike, sufficient emergency equipment, spare tube and tire repair items, fore and aft lights, RoadID, water bottle, and, of course a helmet are strongly recommended and/or mandated.

As you will read below, RoadSpokes 201 will meet from 5 p.m. at Montpelier High School on Tuesdays. Following discussion and training tips or plans for the evening’s ride, bikes will roll out at 5:30. As we work with daylight hours, traffic, and our improving conditioning throughout the weeks, these rides will vary a bit, but will mostly follow Route 2 to 100B to Moretown, perhaps over the Duxbury Gap or out Route 12 towards Elmore. Each ride will be designated in advance.

RoadSpokes 101 is a gentler ride, a training hour or so dedicated to the less experienced or the timid, the rider who wisely choses to add a modest ride to his or her weekly schedule, a cyclist who is rehabbing an injury, or for those who are not geared for a road bike – yet. The timing is the same: arrive 5-5:30 pm., MHS. Training begins at 5:30.

I will be present for both 201 and 101 as will a staff member from ORS. We stand by our “no drop” policy and will leave no one on the road. (The penalty for stopping at the Creemee Stand is that you must buy us a creemee too.) ORS will assist with maintenance issues that can be performed on the road, but we urge you to have your pre-season tune up and any subsequent necessary maintenance done by the staff in the shop at ORS.

All riders must sign a release before first ride.

Registration forms are to be made available in the shop (ORS on Langdon Street) by the end of April.

If you have any further questions, please contact me by emailing, or speak with any staff member at Onion River Sports, 229-9409.  See you soon! Linda


Linda Freeman Fitness

Linda Freeman Fitness


Onion River Sports’ Road Cycling Club open to everyone who rides a bike. We strive to get more folks comfortable cycling on the road and help them improve bike handling skills, group riding skills, and fitness while offering the opportunity to meet other local folks who love to ride.

What you get: a 10% discount on cycling accessories and clothing at Onion River Sports and the best price we can manage on bikes, discount on a club jersey, free clinics, group rides, and weekly emails with training info from our ride leader, Linda Freeman. If it all works well, we’ll throw in a celebration at the end of the season, too!

What it costs: $15

Group RoadSpokes Club Rides

Onion River Sports offers 2 weekly group rides for RoadSpokes club members. These rides are your best source of information and a wonderful place to grow your cycling skills in a friendly, supportive environment. Rides are fully supported by an Onion River Sports mechanic and are led by Linda Freeman.

Weekly rides are offered for individuals whose skills run from beginner through those comfortable riding a paceline. A season’s group ride series includes instruction, goal setting, bike maintenance advice, and information about training for an event. Our rides use the Onion River Century Ride on Saturday, July 26, 2014 as a training goal.

RoadSpokes 101 – Wednesdays beginning May 7th, weather permitting, through July 23

Used as either an introduction to cycling on the road, or as a relaxed ride for anyone who chooses to meet, RoadSpokes 101 is appropriate for all levels and for all bikes. These rides are supported and include instruction on many things that make riding more fun, comfortable, and easier, including: how to care for your bike, what to wear, safety on the road, how to fix a flat tire, and tips to improve your fitness with targeted training.

RoadSpokes 201 – Tuesdays beginning May 6th, weather permitting, through July 22

These rides are for individuals who are already comfortable on the road with road bikes recommended. (Don’t let the type of bike stop you, but riders on road bikes will be able to ride faster and target their training more effectively.) Rides will start at an appropriate pace and will increase in distance and intensity as we train for the Onion River Century Ride on July 27. We start from the same place and end at the same place, but riders spread out along the way to ride at their chosen pace, alone or in groups. Again, we honor our “no-drop” policy.