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Mt. Washington Bicycle Hill Climb. Training in the Flat Land? A Peloton Review.

From https://www.nhgrand.com

Note: This was written as part of a thread about my ride in the 2018 Mt. Washington Bicycle Hill Climb, recognized as the most challenging bicycle hill climb in the United States. I didn’t make the ride. On May 16 of 2018, I was on a training ride, stretching my legs for the South Carolina Seniors 10k time trial competition the next day. About two miles out, I was hit by a car doing 60mph. The good part is I lived and learned to walk again, which was an open question for a while. I spent the next three months in the hospital learning to walk again and getting my brain back into shape.

The information here is still useful for mountain racers. Enjoy!

There’s nothing like this for training in my neck of the woods. Image by Raul Taciu on Unsplash.

The Problem

Other than the extra weight I carry, the most important question I have about training for the Mt. Washington Bicycle Hill Climb is how to train for the hills? On any thirty-mile ride here in South Carolina, I’m lucky to garner three hundred feet of elevation gain. This does not compare favorably with the cliff-like 4,500 ft I will climb in a scant seven-plus miles up the big mountain this August.

It’s gravity that does you in. In a sense, you weigh more. Everything else is the same. It’s the same road tilted upward. But that tilt removes your forward roll just like pedaling into a strong wind does. Imagine you’re pedaling on the flat and going fast. Stop pedaling. How far do you coast? A hundred feet? Five hundred? Do the same thing on a steep incline, and you’ll stop like your tires have melted into the road. It’s worse when you’re in the Clydesdale category like I am. (This is for riders who weigh over 190 pounds.) More weight equals more gravity. It’s a rule of physics.

The real mind-bender here is that for seven uphill miles, you never, ever get a break. Riders aren’t used to that. I’m not used to that. We pedal-coast-pedal-coast. But not here. On the mountain, you are under constant pressure to push to move ahead. With a top finish of around forty-five minutes and an average finish of around ninety-minutes, that’s a long time to push, no matter what kind of condition you’re in.

What to do?
 
What else? I need more stuff. I need an indoor training bike. There are lots of options. Trainers that you attach your bicycle to are comparatively inexpensive and easy to use. A lot of friends use the Zwift system.

These trainers are a little unnerving, though, especially when you stand and rack back and forth in heavy pedaling. In the past, I’ve found them absolutely dull, like a treadmill. And you’re always hauling your bike in and out. And only I could use it. My wife and kids would need their own bikes. How people ride on these for hours is a mystery to me. I decided to get a stationary bike. A Peloton.

Buying a Peloton

Photo from Peloton

You’ve seen one in television ads. Sweaty, skinny, gorgeous people working harder than you’ve ever imagined on a morning sprint before showering and hopping into the Porsche for the drive to work. Yup.

I winced when I pulled the plug. The final tally topped $3,200. Chump change for serious bikers buying serious bikes, but this is a whole lot of money for me. The cost covered the bike, delivery and taxes, a year-long subscription to the app, and a full accessory pack for my wife and I. There is a Facebook group for buying and selling used Pelotons, but the costs aren’t that much lower. You lose your warranty and still have to purchase the app which is forty bucks a month.

I laughed at myself when I made the purchase. Just the week before, I drove across the state to purchase a well-kept 1973 Volkswagen Beetle. The owner was asking $4,000 for it, and I talked myself out of it by mid-drive. I didn’t want to spend that much money on something I didn’t need. But this purchase was easy. I worked out a neat little argument with myself: people spend all kinds of money on gym memberships, and I prefer working out at home. It was a solid investment that I could sell used for a decent price. My wife wanted one, and when Mama’s happy, then everyone is happy. The real draw, of course, was my commitment to the mountain. I’d paid my entry fee and was looking at hotels. I’d submitted a vacation request at work. I fully intend to arrive at Mt. Washington prepared. And hey, what’s your health worth?

Purchase and Delivery

Marketing students will study Peloton for a long time. They’ve cobbled together a stylish hunk of metal and attached it to a computer and the internet. Make no mistake: they aren’t selling a bike. They’re selling abs and an experience. They are selling community and fitness and euphoria. They’re selling a bikini-ready body. That’s good. Because if they were selling a bike, it would just be another bike. It’s a cool bike, and it’s a well-built and useful tool. But, it’s still a bike. 
 
I placed my order on a Saturday, had a confirmatory phone call from Peloton on Monday, and delivery on Friday. Two guys showed up when they said they would, and I walked them through the house. We moved a couple of chairs, and they brought the bike in. Know where you want to put it: it weighs well over two-hundred pounds and is awkward to move. Installation and set up took literally five minutes. They laid out the pad and set the bike on it. They attached the bars, seat, and monitor, plugged it in and fired up the screen. I did a quick once-through with the app, and the delivery guys showed me how to make adjustments to the bike. I signed an electronic OK, and they were out the door with eleven more bikes to deliver that day.

If you are new to bikes, try to slow the guys down a little. Make sure that everything works before they leave. Adjust the seat and get on it. Spin the pedals a few times, and adjust the resistance. Go through a few screens on the app to make sure it’s working. Move around in the seat. Pull on the bars. Does the bike rock around? If so, have the guys adjust the feet to steady the bike. It might be, if you have heavy carpet, that you need a piece of 1/2″ plywood under the pad. The delivery folks can help figure that out. A common complaint in Peloton Facebook groups is a poor internet connection. Many people end up buying a signal booster to strengthens the connection. My bike sits about eight feet from a business-class internet router and still doesn’t connect sometimes. I’ve never figured it out. If need be, you can connect your modem or router directly to the bike. Going through the bike step-wise like this is normal business, and I don’t think the guys who came to my house would have objected. As with anything, if you have problems, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to address them right there than it will be after the guys leave.

Setting Up The Peloton

Photo from Peloton

I’m an old cyclist and bikes don’t scare me. If I wasn’t, this could have been more difficult. If you do have trouble, then use the almost instantaneous on-line help. I’ve used it a couple of times, and the folks who work the help-desk are courteous and know what they are talking about. My questions have been simple and easily answered, but I suspect that they will hold your hand all the way through any troubles.
 
Before purchasing the bike, you’ll have to decide if you want biking shoes with clips that snap into the pedals. This is the default and best set-up. If you haven’t ridden a bike since the fifth-grade when you rode with your girlfriend to the corner store for Sweet Tarts, then you will be surprised that these are standard for road bikes now. It takes time getting used to snapping in and out. And it’s loud. With time, you will have no problems.

If you prefer, Peloton offers pedal cages with straps to hold your feet in place. If you don’t want to buy biking shoes, or if you have half a dozen people in the family using the bike, this is a convenient and inexpensive option. If you use clips, you’ll have to install them. There’s a Peloton instructional video that’s pretty lean but covers the basics. It’s crucial that they are installed correctly. Having your foot snap out of a pedal during a hill climb or sprint is seriously no fun. If you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, then any bike shop can do it for you if you can convince them to make a house call.

You’ll need to set up your profile in the app. Your screen name is A Big Thing. Riders put a lot of thought into their name since riding the Peloton is a community activity. Who wants to be Judy when you can be CaliGirlForever? I took the easy route and called myself WokeUpBreathing after the name of my website. My wife is MsRosePedals. Input whatever stats they ask for. The app will use these to calculate calories burned.

Go through the initial programs. You’ll learn about the bike and how to set it up and about the rides. Take a couple beginner rides until you get a feeling for how the whole thing works. Follow the guidelines, and you will be ready to ride. One note: if you start riding and find that your hands or elbows or feet are going numb, then play with the set-up. Soreness is common and expected, but you shouldn’t come away feeling numb.

Peloton Options

Shoes

Photo from Peloton

The Peloton Family Pack

You don’t have to buy Peloton shoes. They’re good shoes, and I like them, but you can buy shoes from any other cycling outfit. Make sure that they accept Look Delta clips. (You can change the pedals to accept other clips but that’s another topic.) If you bought the bike with cages, then any shoe will work. My recommendation is that, unless you are a serious rider with serious opinions, buy the shoes from Peloton. It’s just easier. Ordering shoes can be a little tricky. From experience, I know what euro-size I need in a cycling shoe. I recommend figuring out your euro-size and buying the next size bigger. The shoes tend to be smaller and for a thinner foot. I buy a size up and wear socks.
 
Clips will be weird for you if you haven’t used them. Be sure to install them correctly. The pedals supplied by Peloton are a real bugger to get out of. Some folks leave their shoes in the clips which is perfectly fine if no one else is riding. You’ll get used to the clips after a few rides. You can buy Teflon coated cleats that will slide in and out a little easier. Make sure you tighten your clips the first two or three times you use them.

The Pad and Weights

Pelotoners have strong opinions about everything. I really like the Peloton pad. Lots of folks think I’m dopey and use a yoga mat. The Peloton pad is thicker and larger and less likely to sop up sweat. And you are going to sweat in bucketfuls. You can try a yoga mat and, if you don’t like it, buy the Peloton mat later. 
 
 Weights can be had anywhere if you don’t care about the fancy ‘P’ imprint on them.

Heart Rate Monitor

You can use any Heart Rate Monitor with the bike that will sync via the ANT+ protocol. The one supplied has worked well for me. Others in the Facebook groups like Wahoos. Watches will work, too, as long as they sync. You don’t have to have a heart rate monitor, but you will want one.

Check out this beauty from Bike Nashbar. Maybe I’ll ride this one next year?
1555598655_289_Mt.-Washington-Bicycle-Hill-Climb Mt. Washington Bicycle Hill Climb. Training in the Flat Land? A Peloton Review.

Music

When you see those Peloton commercials…don’t you expect that everything about the bike shines with the luster of newly beaten gold? That each part has been handcrafted by Gepetto himself, made especially and just for you? Me, too. So, I was surprised when I opened the earbud box to find a long wire with a connector hanging from them. What? They’re not wireless? Huh? For three-grand, the company can’t throw in a pair of decent wireless buds? 
 
 But, I will say this: I have trouble with earbuds. My ears are too big or too small or too freakish or who knows what, but I have trouble keeping buds in my ears. I don’t know why but these buds fit perfectly, stay in place, and sound great. I still wish they were wireless, but these are good units. 
You can use your own earphones or buds whether they are wireless or not. My wife uses her over-the-ear wireless headphones, and I usually just listen to the built-in speakers. Up loud.

Other Stuff

Get plenty of towels. I use two for every ride. One to cover the mat and one to wipe away the sweat.

Cycling gloves are nice. They wick away some sweat and provide a bit of cushion on the bars.

You can buy a new seat if you want to. Go to any of the online bike shops and take your pick. The one provided has good cushioning and a universal fit but, if you are skinny or wide or, well, special, you may want a different one. Just agree with yourself that your butt is going to hurt for a couple of weeks. Work through it. You’ll get to where you don’t notice it. You just need to toughen up a bit.

Cycling shorts are really nice. They are padded and help make the ride more comfortable. Most brands have different cuts for men and women. Avoid anything baggy enough to get caught on a moving part. You’re going to be spinning your legs very fast.

Don’t forget to drink. Water or an electrolyte replacement drink like Gatorade is good.

Take a few minutes every weekend to clean the bike thoroughly and tighten things up. With two users riding several times a week, and with me thrashing the thing to within an inch of its life, I want to keep it taught and tight.

What Peloton Really Sells

Peloton really sells intangibles. The first is the leader board. Every single ride you do is measured against every other person who has done that ride. It’s a good and bad thing. For many or most people there is a deep drive to keep up. I’ve done rides where I hover between being the 51st best and 49th. I have just about worked myself into projectile vomiting making sure that I beat that SOB thinking he or she can squeeze me out of the top fifty. But using the Peloton is really about competing against yourself. In that case, the leader board is a good way to measure your gains. If you did a ride and ended up in 200th place two weeks ago and rose to 195th this time, then you know you’ve improved. I turn the leader board off most of the time. I enter into a workout knowing what I want to accomplish and chasing down other people who are pushing out 2 more watts than I am just distracts me from my goal.

People rave about the community. I haven’t jumped too deeply into this pond, but am a member of several Facebook groups. There is a camera on the bike that you can use with friends, but I’ve never used it. You can use it to create your own rides and competition with people who follow each other. There are lots of groups of riders who agree to do a particular ride at the same time together. You can filter the leader board, so you only see the folks invited. There are a dozen or dozens of Facebook groups. Join the official group to keep up with all things Peloton. I’m in the Power Zone group, the Heart Rate Zone group, and in the sixty-and-over group. Chime right in when joining. Everyone there had their first ride once, and will be happy to help or cheer you on. Almost everyone. There are a few crabby souls there with very strong opinions. Ignore them and remember that you’re there for fun. They’re usually shouted down by much more happy folk.

It’s a motley crew that takes pleasure in your pain. From Peloton

The Instructors

You will probably find favorite instructors. There are lots of them for a reason, and each brings something a little bit different. They all pedal and talk and sweat at the same time which, as far as I can tell, is a pretty magical skill. I haven’t used all the instructors, but here’s my take. Some are more fun and some are more serious. You’ll have fun with everyone, but for some, and for some rides, there is more focus on fun than training. My wife likes Cody and Ally. They tend toward more dancy and fun workouts with fun music. I like the harder stuff. I do Power Zone workouts with Matt and Dennis and work my thighs until there’s not an ounce of juice left in me with Christine. I was surprised the first time I did a ride with Emma. She’s such a nice looking woman. Don’t let the pleasant exterior fool you. And Robin? I’m just saying. Prepare to leave any shred of hubris at the door. She will pummel you and laugh the whole time.

Your Peloton Is Not Your Bicycle

If you are using the Peloton just for fitness and community, then have at it. You are going to have a wonderful time and will learn to love sweat as much as coffee. You’ll make some friends and see your resting heart rate drop along with your weight. Peloton has been cheered on by all kinds of news sources as the best exercise program going.
 
 But it’s not your bike.

There’s no crosswinds or cobblestones like loaves of bread ahead. I’m not sure about the speed that the Peloton reports. If I were going that fast on a road bike, I would win the Tour de France. Same for the distance. Peloton tells me that I do thirty miles in a forty-five-minute ride. Never. In the real world, with a headwind and rain, I might be lucky to churn out ten miles in that same time. On a sunny day with no breeze maybe I’m feeling great and do twenty. 
 
I do, though, notice improvement in my ride since purchasing the Peloton. I use the stationary bike to work on my pedaling and low-rpm-big-gear pushing. Any weight I drop directly translates to a faster ride outside. And I’m just in overall better aerobic shape.

The Takeaway.

The takeaway? Good gawd. If you can afford it get yourself one of the bikes. Go on any of the Facebook groups and ask around. You’ll be inundated with people who, like my wife, say loud and proud that this is the best purchase that they have ever made.

I really can’t recommend it more highly.

Look up WokeUpBreathing when you sign on!

Cheers!


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