My Way of Living + training

Bike Noob 101 : The (Mis)Education of Mr. Gingerbreadman (First of Two Parts)

Bikes. They have been around since time immemorial, pretty much as ubiquitous as they come. For this formerly indifferent running dude, everything is pretty much all the same on two wheels right? I mean, come on, it's just a bike right? Two wheels, you try not to fall, and everything's cool! Little did I know that there lies practically an entire canon of technical knowledge in what turns out to be a highly sophisticated enterprise. It is within this mindset steeped in naivety that our brave new undertaking begins, my running relegated to the background temporarily.

Tricked out racer here

Being a 90's kid, I grew up going to CCP and the Ortigas area where you could rent them for about P25 an hour. Sigh. Not exactly one to have perfect balance, I had to start with every kid's safe haven- the ever-lovable sidecar. If it was any portent of things to come a decade later, I already had too much pride to ride one with training wheels. Even as a pre-pubescent Gingerbread lad, the machismo (perceived or otherwise) was already emanating. I would rather be caught driving those Barbie jeeps you could buy at Plaza Fair or SM Toyland (cue in... . SM toyland is the place to go, lots of toys, g.i.joe ... .board games, laser guns, so mom, dad let's go to toyland... .we got it all for you! )

Cheers to a bygone era

As I had inferred in a previous article, I had a laundry list of problems on two wheels as a youngster. A foray into the world of multisport suddenly necessitated a real-time crash course on all things biking, which was somewhat of a challenge because I was never really the handyman/let's-get-our-hands-dirty mekaniko type. Heck, I could write about them but to do it myself? Ah now that's an entirely different story. I'll try to relate to you as much of the experience from a total newbie perspective.

Not my sorta thing

Well, a bike frame is supposed to be self-explanatory right? It's well, uh, a frame. I mean, it's a bike. Just ride it for crying out loud. Apparently, this simpleton thinking didn't hold water in the highly technical cycling world. The frame's top tube has to be just the right size for you , or else you'll be setting yourself for a wide variety of aches and pains. There are common fit guides easily googable, or have one done at your friendly bike shop. My first one was at least one size small for me, hence me feeling like crap after every ride. How much is a frame anyway? The spectrum is wider than one could think. If you're more of the "assemble" type, you could the manong-style bakal bakal ones for as low as P5,000 . Depending on the brand and where you actually buy it, lightweight carbon-fiber frames could range anywhere from P40,000 to more than P100,000. Also, custom-made titanium frames could set you back a cool $2,500 or more. Cheap thrills.

Looks weird but could probably send your kid through college

Apparently, a bike's groupset is as integral as any other component towards the whole thing. It all seemed Greek or Parseltongue (sorry, couldn't resist the Potter reference) to me when I first got my bike. In common parlance, this is more or less defined as a bicycle component manufacturer's organized collection of mechanical parts. This pretty much includes your brakes and gear shifters (for Shimano {a well-known brand. Wow, parenthesis in a parenthesis, my Grammanazi 7th grade English teacher would be turning in her grave } branded components, this is called an STI, or Shimano Total Integration. Because of Shimano's popularity, "STI" has come to be accepted as a common noun of sorts for gear shifters, like "Colgate" even if it comes from a different brand) , chain, crankset, deraillers (the thing that moves your chains from one sprocket to another to accomplish gearing) et, al. Collectively, these serve as the "engine" of your bicycle, and enthusiasts/serious cyclists pay premium price for any possible technological advantage they could muster.

It's complicated.

There are numerous brands, with perhaps Shimano being the most ubiquitous. I'll try to give you a quick, layman's look into it. The Shimano brand offers different groupset lines, which purportedly cater to anyone from the amateur cyclist to the touring professional. The 2300 is an 8-speed groupset which to be very honest with you I didn't even know existed before I wrote this article. It's probably in the bottom rung of the foodchain, and most professionals will find an 8-speed set lacking for their, well, professional needs. The Sora is a 9 -speeder, and it's a very decent groupset specially for those starting out. It's also what's in Ultramarathoner Abby's roadie, random trivia.

Next in line is the Tiagra, which someone once compared to a Toyota Vios or Honda Jazz if you want to quantify it in car terms. . Noooot sure if that's completely accurate. The 10-speed 105 is probably the most commonly used, a very decent groupset you could go to war with. Is this the equivalent of an Altis or Civic? No idea. My groupset is a well-worn (aka old) 9-speed 105 from a forgotten era. It hasn't failed me so far. On the upper end of the spectrum are the Ultegra and the Dura Ace. A brand new Ultegra set is more expensive than my entire first bike (named Bob, check the old article), while a brand-new Dura-Ace set could either buy you a 2nd hand Honda Hatchback or serve as downpayment for that dream home of yours. Whew.

Car... .. or bike parts?

Since most of do bike within the context of multisport, aerobars are more or less a must-have. Ever see those ultrafit triathletes crouched in that weird but cool-looking position? The aero position is designed to save your legs for that run portion and if executed correctly, propel you faster through the magic of aerodynamics. Thing is, the bikes your Ironman idols are riding on those Youtube clips are made specifically for triathlon. Meaning, they're specifically expensive. Not too uncommon to find P250,000 Italian-made tri-bikes around the corner. While that's a tad bit unrealistic for commoners like you and me, the tipid meals solution would be to buy clip-on aerobars ( cheapest would be about P2,500 a pop) combined with a fast forward seatpost ( anywhere from P2,500 - P5,000) for your road bike. The fast forward seatpost changes the seat tube angle frame from 73° to 78°, effectively moving the rider 38 mm forward in replicating the fancy tri-bike's geometry. Note, without the fast forward seatpost it would be quite difficult to maintain aero position, so these two add-ons usually come hand in hand.

You could put a down on that house already.

A practical fix.


Same thing with wheels. High-end brands like Zipp or HED which specialize in deep, lightweight, aerodynamic wheels that are more or less made to make you go faster. They spin a lot faster too. Maybe that's why you go faster. Smart. Smirk. Anyway, the eye candy factor notwithstanding though just to get your head out of the clouds these are very painful to the wallet. The set that Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara was using in the photo in the previous paragraph could easily north of P120,000. Fun. On the other hand, if you could care less about aerodynamics and just want your bicycle to run, a decent pair could be had for as low as P3,000. Hmmmm.

I'll get my bling bling one day.Sniff.


Whaaaat? Even helmets? It goes without saying that helmets are there for one thing - to prevent your brain from becoming mush on the floor in the event of some horrible accident. Cool. Of course, leave it to modern technology to somehow figure out a way to "pimp up" your standard issue helmet. While a basic helmet could go as low as P500- P1300 depending on where you get it, a tricked out aerodynamic helmet that "makes you go faster" with matching water vents to boot could set you back a cool P10,000 easy.

He's faster already

Cycling Shoes/Cleats

The quintessential newbie rider's rite of passage. People speak of it in hushed, even fearful tones, like it was the Loch Ness Monster or something. Some riders go on for months still wearing sneakers, avoiding the big jump at all costs. Why the fuss? These shoes have cleats that latch on to a special kind of pedal, allowing for a more efficient stroke and the added power benefit of an upward pull. If utilized correctly, these make for probably the most immediate improvement in terms of performance.

So if bike shoes are such a godsend, why do newbie cyclists speak of them with relative dread?

Well, there's always a caveat, and here's the rub. Once on bike shoes, you're practically "glued" to your bike, and you could only disengage by doing a nifty outward twist move. That nifty move takes some time to practice, and that extra half second it takes could be enough to niftily knock you down in the classic "semplang" move - even while you're still attached to the bike. Without the benefit of just putting down an emergency leg for leverage and balance, things could turn ugly in a hurry.

Face the fear
As it is, the thought of having no safety backup is mortifying to a lot of novice cyclists. It's just one of those things that's easy to procrastinate over, but at the back of your head you know you have to face it eventually. It was with this mindset that I decided to get my first pair, "just to get it over with". This little conversation at the bike shop where I bought it from did nothing to assuage my fears :

Bikemann : First time mo ba mag cleats?
GBM : Yes pohz
Bikemann : Ah ok. Sesemplang ka.
GBM: !!!!!!

And indeed, the deadpan oracle had spoken. Ironically, over several months on no cleats I had done a treacherous 120k road race, a duathlon and triathlon with no incident whatsoever.

Got home, tried on the shoes, and cleated up downstairs in the garage.

BANG. Less than 5 minutes in, I'm sprawled on the ground. Still attached to the bike. Sob. Muscle memory apparently gives way to a lot of bad habits, and it reared its ugly head in real time.

Much like a fallen gladiator recovering from a devastating blow, I staggered up and gave it another go

3 minutes later, same result.

My confidence shaken and knee banged up, I went back upstairs to regain my senses. Alarm bells were anxiously ringing in my head. Is it reaaaaallly that hard? I am really not meant to be a cyclist? Do I really suck at this?

Let's just assume it hurts.
But then again, as that old adage goes it isn't about how many times you fall but how many times you get up right? The following day I was at it again, convinced I could do it. I rode for 20 kms along my familiar training jaunt, so far so good. As I pulled up near the back gate of UA&P, I dismounted to check if everything was in order. Cool. Went back up, did a u-turn, and before I knew it was hard on the ground. This was a really hard fall, much harder than the previous two ones. My STI was jarred to the point of misalignment. To make matters worse, my students had seen me and were prepared to laugh over that silly cyclist until they saw it was me. Oh the horror. Did I mention I was still attached to the bike?

Where's that adage when you need it? I limped home, tail between my legs dragging my bike with me. This was really depressing. All that fuss about fancy frames, groupsets, wheels, and helmets - yet here I was, couldn't even manage to keep myself off the pavement. That in turn invoked perhaps the single most overused line in the history of cycling, hence I'm going to use it again -

It's not about the bike.
Kuya Lance Armstrong probably knew what he was talking about. First time I ever got wind of these figures, I could hardly believe it. Turns out there are two sides to this bike thing - both the competitive side and the hobby side. And maybe somewhere in between where the two sides converge. You could see people spend hundreds of thousands on the aforementioned items, but they're nowhere near competitive. As they say, if you can't perform, japorm. Sometimes, going through the fancy bikes at multisport or cycling events it's easy to see that the sport is also somewhat akin to a grown man's Tamiya . You get the best components, put it all together and talk about it with your buddies over a beer or two while planning your next salary burner.

I have a borderline mid-range bike at best, and I would be lying if I told you that I didn't take some lurid form of satisfaction in overtaking them italian-made, Dura-Ace equipped bikes on a race. On the other hand, how many times have I been lapped and overtaked by manongs with bakal bakal bikes that seem to have been used and abused since the 80's. No aerodynamics here, just sheer brute strength and athleticism. I shudder to think at what they could do with all this fancy technology at our disposal.

Which brings us back to the immortal words of Mr. Armstrong. Truly, it really isn't about the bike. The best bike in the world will be utterly useless in the wrong hands. Or legs , for the matter. You can spend all you want, but these advancements will only be noticeable if you actually bother putting in the requisite saddle time. The competitive athlete is both well conditioned and utilizes technology with maximum efficacy. However, if you could care less about competition and are just thrilled with the science and intricacies of putting it all together, well and good. We'll gawk at your fancy toy during the next race.

He has a pointThis bike thing. It's a fun, crazy thing, and it appeals to a whole wide range of personality types with hugely contrasting goals.

Did I mention I never fell from my bike again after that embarrassing episode ?

Just suck it up brother.

Welcome to the cycling world.

Where it doesn't matter how many times you fall.

Only the number of times you get up...

cycling, food, gear, goals, life and running, marathon, muscle, race, road, RUN, running, shoes, strength training, Time, and more:

Bike Noob 101 : The (Mis)Education of Mr. Gingerbreadman (First of Two Parts) + training