September 7, 2010

El Tour de Tucson 2010 Honors John Howard

Richard J. DeBernardis, President and CEO of Perimeter Bicycling, recently announced that University Medical Center 28th El Tour de Tucson presented by Diamond Ventures is dedicated to the legendary John Howard. This year's official dedication is Thursday, November 18th at the Tucson Convention Center.

As a long-time participant, John says, "El Tour has always been one of my favorite events.  It supports some important Tucson charities, giving back to the community and brings cyclists together for a day of fun and adventure.  El Tour typifies what cycling is all about.  Everybody wins, we ride, we have fun, stay in shape and community services reap the financial rewards.  I'm humbled to be a part of the mix."

This year’s event will officially be dedicated to John on Thursday, November 18th at the Tucson Convention Center.  For an invitation to the Dedication Dinner for John, click here.

The UMC 28th El Tour de Tucson presented by Diamond Ventures will be held Saturday, November 20th.  Approximately 9,000 cyclists will participate, supported by 2700 volunteers and 30,000 spectators.

July 20, 2010

Tips for a Controlled Descent

As the Tour de France meanders into the climbs and descents of the Alps and Pyrenees in the next few days, a lot of us will be testing our own boundaries where gravity is concerned. The descent is your reward for the effort it takes to climb that hill or mountain, so learning the essential skills that will bring you down safely is an important rite of passage for a competent cyclist. The art of descending is all about skill, perceived then practiced. Let's leave courage out of the equation for now because that implies taking risks as opposed to calculating them. It is to the subject of learned skills and the preservation of life and limb that I dedicate a few thoughts about cheating gravity and getting away with it.

Any discussion of the techniques involved in descending must start with getting to know the dynamics of a particular descent. Many of the best Tour riders scout the difficult sections of a race in advance, because it gives them an idea of what must be negotiated ahead of time. As you descend, you must feel the bike and connect with it so that you are a single unit. Get in tune with the pitch of the hill, the camber, and the way it banks, then climb back up that hill and ride it again. Skill and confidence improve with familiarity. 

Also consider changing weather in the mountains, the potential for road hazards, sand, gravel, dirt, leaves, and freshly fallen rocks on sharp road cuts. If you are venturing into unfamiliar terrain, assume that the worst-case scenario awaits, and avoid speeds that compromise your personal skill level. Descending requires 100 percent of your attention, so do not allow yourself to become distracted and never take your eyes off the road in front of you. 

If you know a skilled and experienced cyclist who will ride with you and enjoys playing the gravity game, join him or her. Follow his lead, though not with blind abandon, and attempt to duplicate his moves downhill. Ask questions, and wait for answers. As a rule, the best line through a downhill turn is outside, inside, outside, but the quickest way down may be completely inappropriate in traffic.
The manner in which you are set up on your bike is also a factor. Triathletes on steeply angled, forward-positioned time trial bikes, need to reduce speed exponentially, as these bikes may compromise a safe descent.

A fun way to learn descending techniques is to carve cones (water bottles) placed in an empty parking lot. You can safely learn how to control and balance your bike on the flats, which will make you more adept at controlling it on descents. In case you are wondering, practicing these techniques on a mountain bike on loose surfaces translates well to a road bike. For example, sliding your weight back on the saddle, reducing your center of gravity, light feathering of the brakes, and adjusting the brake bias are skills common to both road and off-road riding.

A less common, although potentially terrifying experience for an inexperienced cyclist generally occurs when one's center of gravity is too high and the mechanical set up of the bike is not optimal. A very sudden loss of control, which is characterized by high-speed oscillation, can be corrected with a remarkably simple action: simply clamp the top tube with the knees. It also helps to drop your center of gravity by bending the elbows slightly and sliding to the rear of the saddle. 

In case you think your discomfort with gravity is indicative of your cycling rank, consider the plight of a Gianni Bugno, who won two back-to-back world professional road-racing championships in the 90's.  Supposedly, Gianni had difficulty with fast descents early in his professional career, but he resolved the problem by listening to classical music at a largo tempo while descending on his bike. The slow, melodic music had a calming effect. As you acquire your descending skills, don't just practice, learn to enjoy the thrill of a controlled, safe descent.

Learn more about descending and other cycling techniques in my latest book, "Mastering Cycling," available at John Howard Performance Sports.

An Introduction to FiTTE System for Cyclists

I was a member of the U.S. National cycling team in the mid-1970s when I staged my first bike fitting clinic. The curriculum for that clinic was a performance-based, hands-on fitting concept that evolved into a holistic solution for riders known as FiTTE.

The acronym for Fitness, Training, Technique and Equipment relies on the simple elements of functional anatomy, a contribution of our partner, Dr. Ernie Ferrel. Dr. Ferrel, an avid racer in the 1980s, used the elements of biomechanics to treat his cycling-focused chiropractic patients. FiTTE essentially addresses two critical areas of cycling: Performance tuning and injury prevention.

Kansas City-based FiTTE System practitioner Gina Poertner comments, "John and I see a lot of frustrated people who are not comfortable on their bikes. When you are looking for solutions, you need to find the most experienced practitioners. A very common problem for cyclists are knee issues, often times due to weak VMO (Vastus Medialis Obliques, a key cycling muscle in the quads), tight rotators, and issues with pronation or supination of the foot. Before this problem becomes chronic, we need to nip it in the bud quickly, and that's exactly what we do with FiTTE every day."

In addition to my work, based out of Coastal Health and Wellness Center in San Diego and Santa Barbara, California, FiTTE has now grown into a fully certified system with practitioners around the globe and is the world's longest operating bicycle positioning system, established in 1982.

FiTTE clients have captured 173 national titles, 18 world titles and two Olympic gold medals. According to Ralph Walker, CEO of John Howard Performance Sports, "We are extremely proud of our accomplishments as a cycling services-based company; we can help any cyclist improve his/her performance and comfort, we lower the risk of repetitive-use injury, and we document those results for each and every client. We optimize the cyclist then adjust the bike accordingly, not the other way around."

The PowerFiTTE Process

A two to 2.5-hour procedure, the PowerFiTTE process includes:
  1. Full mechanical performance/comfort tuning based on the elements of functional anatomy.
  2. Biomechanical analysis and soft tissue mobilization of key muscle groups for improved power.
  3. Full user-friendly written documentation of all critical performance, efficiency and set-up data, before and after.
  4. A prioritized demonstration of your key-need cycling specific stretches and/or strength exercises for improved training.
  5. Full assessment and recommendations for injury patterns. Can include adjustments to bike and rider or cleat positions to accommodate.
In upcoming articles on, I will explain key elements of a successful bike fit and how the FiTTE System can help you ride pain free.

Learn more about proper positioning and other cycling techniques in my latest book, "Mastering Cycling" available at John Howard Performance Sports.