Masi Team 3V

Choosing a road bike is a lot like choosing a violin. Think about it: Violins and road bikes all look alike and are used the same way. But to a skilled violinist or cyclist, they differ in certain nuances – in tone, in feel, and in the way they please you. Subtle things, true, but also important.

The $1,985 (without pedals) Masi Team 3V is like a fine Italian-school violin.

OK, the one we tested was a screaming red violin with brilliant yellow decals. It’s sufficiently showy to make a group of school kids yell, “Hey, bitchin’ bike!” But its tone and feel were on par with a nice fiddle all the same. Think of it as a Strad that’s been chrome plated with flames painted on it, but which still sounds as good as when it was brown.

A road racing bike’s feel is determined by a complex combination of factors, including frame geometry, type of tubing and wall thickness, rims, tires – maybe even crankarm stiffness. If all of these things jell, you get a magical bike that makes you feel good. The Masi is like this.

The Team 3V is the latest refinement of a concept that was fairly radical when it emerged in the mid ’80s: oversize, thin-wall steel tubes silver-brazed to the outside of internal lugs. Masi did it before many other steel-bike manufacturers succumbed to the design’s advantage: more stiffness for less weight.

This latest version comes with appropriately classic-yet-exotic Reynolds 753 steel tubing uniquely developed for Masi. Some of the weight saved by the thin tubing is regained in the internal lugs, but absolute minimum frame weight isn’t what the Team 3V is about. Balance between stiffness and liveliness is. The frame’s feel, coupled with seemingly unremarkable geometry (74/73.5-degree head/seat angles), produce a ride so sweet you might just want to walk right past the titanium, carbon fiber, and aluminum sections of your favorite cycling supermarket.

Weighty issues

The Team 3V frame and complete bike, however, are relatively heavy. Our sample frame weighed 4.26 pounds without fork, and the whole package was 22.2 pounds without pedals. The Sachs New Success parts are durable, but not feathery. Mind you, the bike doesn’t feel/heavy. If you just ride it and stay away from scales, you’ll never know the difference.

Though it has italian cachet, the Team 3V is made in California from British tubing. A frameset with steel fork costs about $1,000. Sustaining the international theme, a fully equipped 3V comes with a Sachs group and Campagnolo Ergopower brake/shift levers, Modolo handlebar and stem, Campy headset, Selle Italia Turbo saddle, a rather shockingly ugly seatpost (“Whoa, Marv! We gotta cut some cost on this baby!”), and Torelli clincher rims with excellent Vittoria Open Challenge Kevlar tires. Ah, yes, and air pedals. The bad news is you don’t get any; the good news is you can get what you want.

The Sachs drivetrain components are generally good-looking and durable, and the shifting is what it is. Dr. Z and I are fans of Ergopower, but other Bicycling editors aren’t so fond. The way I see it, Ergopower shifting is designed for big, meaty fingers in the heat of battle. Namby-pamby mineral-water sippers should stick to dainty Shimano STI. Of course, STI will be wearing out just as Ergopower is breaking in, but it’s up to you.

My first ride on the Team 3V produced a 30-mile smile, and I kept riding it despite a garage full of tasty test machines. The 3V, or Tre Volumetrica, concept (the liveliness of large-diameter tubes kept from harshness through the miracle of very thin walls) really works. The bike handles in a sprightly way, yet eats buzzy macadam surfaces like a carbon fiber model. In fact, the frame rides more like carbon than it does titanium, steel or aluminum, and that’s a compliment. Hard cornering feels safe and happy, white-line drones are stable and relaxing, and sprints and climbs are energizing and (as Masi’s literature says) “zingy.”

Although this Masi isn’t as light as its frame technology might lead you to expect, it works as well as it looks. It is truly an excellent violin.

How to clean tight turns and avoid nasty obstacles

Riding a mountain bike on complicated singletrack is as rewarding as anything you can do on 2 wheels. It is also infinitely challenging, because there will always be plenty of trail that you will not be able to ride, no matter how good you are.

As a mountain biker, you have to make a decision. Do you avoid trails you can’t ride, sticking to those within your comfort zone? Or do you work on your skills and gradually master bits of a difficult trail until you can ride the whole thing?

When I started riding off-road 14 years ago, those difficult sections held frightening obstacles, such as a 6-inch log or a tight corner with a 4-inch rock. Now my challenges are more strenuous, but the thrill of conquest remains.

Bicycling is introducing this column to help you learn the skills you need to ride your mountain bike better. We hope to motivate, entertain, and educate – enabling you to get the most out of your off-road experience. Mostly we’ll work on skills, but we may also offer a humorous or cautionary tale – some even based on fact.

We kick off with one of the most basic skills: cleaning tight corners. Here are the essentials: Be in the right gear, control your balance by pedaling against light resistance from your brakes, choose the right line, and lean your torso forward and to the outside of the turn.

The right gear

This depends on how strong you are and how tight the corner is. But most tight turns respond well to a small chainring/third-largest cog combination (usually 24x21T). This moderately low gear gives you plenty of torque to accelerate out of midcorner trouble, yet isn’t so low that you’re flailing. The small ring/big cog combo is almost always too low; you don’t spin through a tight, technical corner, you push. A higher gear also gives you a better chance to avoid striking obstacles with your pedals.

Pedal against the brakes

Every time you stomp your pedal through a power stroke, you accelerate. In a tight corner, each time you accelerate, you straighten up. Light, delicate pedaling is needed to maintain speed through a tight corner. By dragging both brakes lightly, you can pedal at a more reasonable effort while at the same time smoothing both your speed and your cornering arc with the brakes.

Use your index and second fingers on both levers while maintaining your grip on the handlebar with your thumb and outer 2 fingers. If you need to tighten your line, squeeze the brakes a bit harder. Need to widen the arc? Ease off the brakes. Practice by riding in circles in both directions, first on a level surface then on an incline.

Pick the right line

In general, choosing a path through a tight corner at low speed requires the same strategy as taking a wide corner at a high speed. Enter wide, cut to the apex at midcorner, then return to the outside. Make the turn as wide as possible, because when you add obstacles, things get more complex.

I’ve watched a thousand novice mountain bikers do it wrong. They carefully choose a line through an obstacle-infested corner that will keep their front wheels away from obstacles, but they forget about the rear wheel. They ride around a midcorner rock, neatly missing the glistening, evil thing with the front end, and just when they are starting to puff with pride, the rear wheel hits the rock dead on. (They then stop abruptly and fall over with a puzzled look on their faces.)

Remember: The rear wheel tracks inside the front wheel a little in a medium-speed turn, and a lot in a tight, slow turn. If you ride through a tight corner then go back and look at your tire tracks (or look at the photos at left), you’ll see what I mean. The rear wheel can track inside the front by a foot or more. This means you have to run your front wheel outside that midcorner obstacle to ensure that the rear wheel will miss it – like, say, a foot outside.

Here’s How to Pack Your Lunch With Power

How do I find more time to ride? If you’re a cyclist, you’ve asked yourself this question numerous times. We all struggle with squeezing enough riding time into an already packed schedule. Jobs, families, and other interests make 24 hours shrink faster than cheap cycling socks.

You could commute to work on your bike, but you’ve never been able to get past the classic excuses – time, convenience, safety. There is another option. Join the lunch bunch.

Noon rides free your evenings for other activities and invigorate you for the afternoon droop that hits most people between 1 and 5 p.m. But is it really possible to fit a worthwhile workout into 60 minutes, desk to desk? Masters racer Dave George of Grand Junction, Colorado, says it is.

George squeezes a training ride into his lunch hour with 4-8 of his Rust Geotech, Inc., colleagues every day. “During the season, it’s plenty of quality work,” he says. “And in the winter, it’s enough maintenance so I can start riding more in February and be going well in a month. The ride makes our afternoons much more productive, and it’s a great stress reliever. It really changes your outlook.”

Follow along with George and we promise to get you on the bike and back at the desk in one hour. Clock’s ticking…

12:00-12:07 Change

Grab your duffel and head for the changing room. If your workplace doesn’t have locker rooms and showers, try the restroom. Other possibilities are a private office, a janitor’s closet, or a storeroom. Can’t find a lockable door? Post a “Do Not Disturb” sign. Save time by packing your riding clothes so the items on top are what you put on first; for example, shorts, undershirt, jersey is a good order. Some riders wear cycling shorts under their regular pants so they can change quickly and without baring everything (a ploy perfected by Superman). Hang your work clothes or fold them neatly to save time when you put them back on. Head for your bike – walkable cleats make the journey easier. If the bike storage area is secure, you should have left your gloves, helmet, eyewear, and jacket (if necessary) hanging from the bars. Put them on and head out.

12:07-12:15 Warm up

Spin easily, increasing gearing and cadence every minute until you’re cranking pretty hard. As you’re doing this, you should decide what route you’ll ride and be pedaling toward it. Ideal cycling roads might not unroll directly from your office door, but you don’t need scenic splendor to stay fit. George chooses from 4 main loops his group can cover in predictable times. (Out-and-backs seem to work best for time management.) If the weather is bad, they stay close and do hill repeats. Another option is a training criterium on a 1-2 mile loop on quiet suburban streets or in an industrial park or office complex. Ease off for a minute before the workout begins.

12:15-12:50 Train

Crank away. The Geotech crew goes hard every day. “The rides are so short that we recover,” George says. But listen to your body. Five days of intervals or sprints might drain your energy and enthusiasm for weekend riding. (Afternoons at work won’t be much fun either.) If you need easy days, spin and enjoy shorter mileage. Here are 6 workouts that cram a lot of training into 35 minutes:

  1. Do 15 minutes at time trial pace, 5 minutes easy, another 15 minutes of time trialing.
  2. Ride 4 sets of 5 minutes each at time trial pace with 3-4 minutes recovery between.
  3. Do hill repeats. Ride hard up a 1/2-mile hill, then roll down easily. Repeat.
  4. Jam into an all-out sprint every 5 minutes. Roll easily in between.
  5. Do ladders. Go hard for 1 minute, then 2 minutes, then 3, 4, 5, and 6. Separate each effort with 2-3 minutes of easy spinning.
  6. Team time trial. Trade pulls at the front of a paceline (set a limit such as 1-2 minutes or 30 pedal strokes) and go as hard as you can. This works better with a closely matched group.

12:50-12:53 Warm down

Three minutes isn’t much time to cool off after a hard effort, so time your last training effort to end with a 2- to 3-minute recovery. The combination is good enough to loosen your legs.

12:53-12:59 Clean up

Stash your bike, head for the changing room, and strip. Save time by stuffing your cycling garb in the bag instead of carefully packing. If you have a shower, jump in and rinse off. Ten-minute steam-soaks are nice, but the mission here is to get presentable for possible afternoon meetings. Company doesn’t have a shower’? Use rubbing alcohol and a washcloth to sponge off. The alcohol removes odors and cools you enough to stop perspiration. In cool weather it’s possible to skip the cleanup entirely.

1:00 Get Back to Work

George eats at his desk and sips sports drinks to rehydrate and replenish carbo stores. Or you can snack at your afternoon break.

LUNCH BREAKAWAY

Trying to fit a quality ride into the short time you once used to chomp down a burger and fries can be intimidating. Here’s how to start.

  1. Sell supervisors on the idea. Remind them that increased fitness reduces absenteeism and increases productivity. “Our lunch hour is only 30 minutes,” says George, “but we have a policy that we can take an hour for exercise if we make it up.”
  2. Try it for just one day a week. This will let you practice and get the bugs out without losing big chunks of time over the course of a week. Once perfected, shoot for 2-3 times a week. Coupled with longer weekend rides, you’ll get plenty fit for fast cycling.
  3. Practice clothing transitions. This is where major time can be wasted. Think of your lunch hour as a triathlon with a bike ride in the middle and a clothes transition at either end. Practice. And think about your ‘do. Short hair (for men and women) can be quickly toweled dry and combed. Primping elaborate coifs can lessen your valuable workout time by 10 minutes or more.
  4. Refuel. Lunch workouts can deplete your energy stores and leave you drained for afternoon work and evening activities. To stay alert (and employed):

Eat a good breakfast. Noon rides are fueled by the food you ate at breakfast. Try oatmeal, skim milk and a banana, along with a bagel or whole wheat toast.

Stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle at your desk and sip all day.

Plan a 2-part lunch. At your morning break munch an energy bar, bagel, or jam sandwich on whole wheat bread. Fruit is good, too. Try apples, bananas, or melon. In the afternoon, chase the workout with a carbo replacement drink and a turkey sandwich on whole wheat.

Upgrade your mountain bike cables

Four strands of wire, the largest barely 2 mm thick, determine how your bike brakes and shifts. Sever just one and you’re in trouble, with only half a transmission or safety system. Because every ride you take subjects these cables to moisture and dirt, it’s best to lube them about every 6 weeks and replace them yearly.

Things are changing though. Two companies have introduced “super” cables that last at least twice as long as stock wires, without maintenance. They fit both road and mountain bikes but are best suited for off-road use, where cables take a beating.

Gore-Tex coated “Ride-On” cables are outrageously expensive at $45 per set of brake or shift cables (with housings) and $55 for tandem ones (800/488-5544). Even so, many mountain bikers are switching to this sealed system (the cables run inside a piece of plastic tubing) to dramatically reduce cable friction and improve shifts and stops. RideOns are especially effective with Grip Shift shifters.

The Talon “Slick Whip” is less pricey but still effective – and easier to install. (Price: $7 for standard diameter road and mountain cables, $9 for oversize mountain bike brake cables, and $11 for tandem cables; 602/898-3772, AZ). It’s a Teflon-coated replacement inner cable that works with your housing.

Here’s how to install the RideOn or Slick Whip cables on a mountain bike.

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES

  • repair stand
  • diagonal cutters
  • cable ends
  • replacement cables with housing
  • cable cutter
  • pliers
  • single-edge razor blade or sharp knife
  • 8- and 9-mm combination wrenches
  • 3-, 4-, and 5-mm allen wrenches
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • file
  • awl or nail
  • oil and grease
  • electric drill and bits

Making and using emergency spokes

We all know hangnails and crooked politicians are inevitable. Experienced tourists feel the same about flat tires and broken spokes. We’ve covered puncture repair several times. But when a spoke snaps, it requires much more labor. Unless, that is, you carry some emergency spokes–prepared ahead of time–that are so simple to install you don’t even have to remove the wheel. Here’s how.

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES

  • diagonal cutter
  • spoke wrench
  • 6 spokes and nipples
  • tire lever
  • pocket knife
  • electrical or duct tape
  • zip ties
  1. BUY 3 spokes (or as many as you think you’ll need) that are 6 mm longer than those in your rear wheel and 3 more that are 6 mm longer than those in front. If you can’t find spokes that match the gauge (diameter) and threading of your present ones, be sure to get nipples to fit the replacements. Using diagonal cutters, snip the spoke heads closely so the base retains a slight L shape.
  2. NOW bend the spoke to look like the one in the photo. To do this, grip it with the diagonal cutters about 5 mm from the original bend. The jaws will nick the spoke but won’t do any real damage if you don’t press too hard. Push the spoke back with your hand, creating another 90-degree bend. If you have a spare hub, you can form the spoke perfectly by inserting the spoke tip in a hole and bending the shaft against the flange. Either way, the spoke’s length (from the top of the threads to the first bend) should equal that of the spokes in your wheel.
  3. STORE the spokes inside panniers, a trunk pack, the handlebar, seatpost, or zip tied alongside a rack stay. Store nipples separately or they might vibrate off.
  4. WHEN a spoke breaks, remove the end still attached to the nipple. An easy way is to bend it slightly so you can spin it counterclockwise like a hand crank while holding the nipple with a spoke wrench. If the broken nub is still in the hub flange, poke it out with a spoke. If it’s longer, bend it as necessary and work it out. This can be difficult on the cog side, but you can do it. Or if you have diagonal cutters, snip the spoke and push out the end.
  5. INSERT the end of the emergency spoke into the vacant hub hole, trying to match the pattern (heads out or in). If you can’t, put it in any way it will fit. Weave it through the other spokes, following the pattern in the wheel. Most wheels have “cross 3 interlaced” spoking, which means each spoke crosses 3 others–under the first 2 and over the third, or vice versa. If you have nipples for your emergency spokes, proceed to step 6. Otherwise, connect the spoke to the nipple by turning the nipple clockwise with a spoke wrench. Then jump to step 7.
  6. TO INSTALL a new nipple, deflate the tire. Rotate the wheel until the old nipple is at the top. Pinch or roll the tire, using tire levers if necessary, until you can see the rim strip. If it’s rubber, move it to the side. Push out the old nipple and pop in the new one. If you have a tape rim strip, cut it between 2 nipples, peel it back, change the nipple, and roll the tape back into place. If it won’t stick, cover the section with a small piece of tape.
  7. TO GET the new spoke up to tension quickly, pluck and listen to the spokes that go to the same hub flange. Gradually tighten the emergency spoke until it makes the same tone. Then spin the wheel with one thumb resting on the brake pad near the rim, helping you to see and feel the trueness. Loosening spokes going to the left hub flange and tightening those going to the right will move the rim to the right, and vice versa. Proceed by 1/2 turns until the wheel spins true again.
  8. FINISH by “stress relieving” the wheel. Squeeze parallel pairs of spokes to settle any that have wound up during truing. This will also help seat the emergency spoke in the hub and rim. After squeezing, spin the wheel and retrue if necessary. Emergency spokes are surprisingly durable, but it’s a good idea to replace them with conventional spokes when you have a chance.

Dress for duress: toasty tips for safe and confortable winter cycling

Cyclists should wear comfortable clothes to prevent heat stress and chills. Clothing for cold weather should be made of insulating material to trap heat. A polypropylene balaclava keeps the head warm, while insulated socks and gloves effectively warms the feet and hands.

No matter how hot it gets in summer, cyclists always create a cooling breeze simply by rolling down the road. But take that same pace and combine it with temperatures in the 30s rather than 80s, and suddenly speed chills. In fact, as our chart shows, calm 30-degree air feels like 3 degrees when you’re riding 20 mph.

To pedal comfortably through winter (or get outside earlier in spring), you need clothing that blocks wind and retains warmth without making you overheat. It’s a tough task, and I’ve yet to find the perfect head-to-toe system. However, while commuting and training during Pennsylvania winters for several years, I’ve developed the following dressing techniques that work well, making it possible to ride for a couple of hours in wind chills as low as 30 degrees below zero. Am I warm in these conditions? Not really. Am I comfortable? Enough to eliminate frigid air as a reason to miss a ride.

HEAD

It all starts here. As you’ve probably heard, more body heat is lost through the neck and head than any other source. Protecting them is priority one, and it’s easy (and cheap). I wear a polypropylene balaclava that’s thin enough not to require changing my helmet’s pads. In fact, I also leave the vents alone, allowing air flow to prevent overheating. TABULAR DATA OMITTED The balaclava fits tight around my face and extends well into my turtleneck undershirt to prevent air leaks. When necessary, I can pull it up to cover my chin or mouth. It’s effective in a wide range of temperatures and can easily be folded into a pocket if the temperature climbs.

GOOD BUY: Polypropylene lightweight balaclava from Campmor ($6, 800/226-7667).

FEET

These are the first to announce displeasure in cold temperatures. Interestingly, you’ll have a better chance of keeping your toes toasty if your head and torso are warm. If they aren’t, blood flow to the extremities is reduced. Second in importance is protecting your feet from wind and wetness. Wear socks made of an insulating material that holds moisture away from your skin. I prefer wool high-tops. Be careful not to tie your shoes too tight (restricting circulation), and cover them with booties. Some of the most effective and reasonably priced are made of neoprene. Even better (but more costly) are models combining a waterproof outer material such as Gore-Tex or Aqua-No with a fleece liner. These are also lighter, thinner, and foldable. For maximum heat retention, choose booties that have high, snug tops and cleat cutouts no larger than necessary.

GOOD BUYS: Performance neoprene shoe covers ($30, 800/727-2453); Bellwether Stretch Aqua-No booties ($50, 415/863-0436, CA).

HANDS

Again, keep your core warm and your hands will have a better chance. For temperatures above 35 degrees, full-finger gloves will do. But when it’s colder, I’ve found nothing works as well as insulated “lobster” gloves that put your first 2 fingers in one compartment and your last 2 in another. This enhances warmth almost as well as full mittens, but allows the dexterity to operate a bike. Other effective features include a long, knit cuff to prevent air leaks, terry material on the back for wiping your nose, and a windproof, water-resistant shell. The trick is knowing the temperature above which lobster gloves will cause your hands to sweat. If this happens, the dampness can make them feel chilly.

GOOD BUY: Pearl Izumi Stretch Entrant Lobster gloves ($40, 800/328-8488).

TORSO

Dress in layers that transport moisture and trap body heat. I start with a polypropylene undershirt, then put on a long-sleeve turtleneck made of polypro or another wicking, insulating material. On top I wear a wool/acrylic-blend jacket with nylon chest panels. These block the wind while allowing the back of the jacket to radiate body heat, reducing the risk of getting too sweaty. A full front zipper lets me open the jacket while climbing or riding with a tailwind, but close it partially or fully at other times. I’ve never encountered temperatures so low that these 3 garments weren’t enough. In fact, when it’s above 30 I’ll often go without the base undershirt.

On cold, rainy days, I switch to a waterproof jacket with underarm vents. I still get damp (from sweat and condensation), but at least I stay warm. Tip: Wear a small fanny pack around the outside of your jacket. This will hold it down, keeping your lower back covered and allowing you to work the zipper easily with one hand. Also, it gives you a place to carry small items because you don’t have jersey pockets.

GOOD BUY: DuPont “Thermastat” 2-layer long-sleeve turtleneck ($28, Bike Nashbar, 800/627-4227).

LEGS

Above about 45 degrees, I prefer leg warmers rather than tights. They let my hips breathe to reduce the chance of becoming too warm. If it’s chillier, I switch to polypro or brushed Lycra tights. When the temp is 30 or colder, I use tights with a bib top for the extra torso and low-back insulation. You can also get these with double-thick knee panels for additional protection. On frigid, gusty days I put on the best wind-chill busters I’ve found–Assos insulated bib tights. They’re expensive, but they’ll keep you on the road. Amazingly, they won’t cause you to overheat when the temperature is in the 30s, but to make them last I save them for the coldest days.

GOOD BUYS: ShaverSport polypro leg warmers ($25, 303/399-3555, CO); Assos Thermo Bib Tight ($170, 800/266-2776).

EYES

Not even an encore viewing of The Terminator will make you cry like icy air at 20 mph. And the glare of the low winter sun can be blinding. My favorite eye protection is the Smith Prolite Sportshield ($20, 800/635-4401). I wear it year-round, choosing among the 4 lens colors to match each ride’s light conditions. Because I use contacts, I appreciate the lens’s wraparound protection, as well as the fact that it snaps to a wide headband. This absorbs sweat to keep the view clean, and it’s the only thing that touches your head–there’s nothing conducting cold or putting pressure on your ears or nose. In winter, I put the headband over my balaclava and across my ears, keeping them warmer.

HOT TIPS FOR COLD ROADS

HERE ARE 10 GOOD IDEAS FOR RIDING IN WINTER WEATHER.

  1. Start into the wind, then let it blow you back home. Otherwise, you’ll work up a sweat riding with a tailwind, then suffer in the icy wind chill.
  2. Don’t overdress. If you’re not chilly in the first few minutes, you’ve probably worn too much and will overheat.
  3. In freezing temperatures, use an insulated bottle or bottle cover to increase the time before your drinks turn to slush.
  4. Be wary of shaded corners, which may hide ice.
  5. Install fenders if they’ll fit. They’re great for reducing grit and muck on you and your bike.
  6. Wear light, bright colors to help motorists see you on dim days.
  7. Install rear reflectors or carry reflective ankle bands for times when dusk catches you a few minutes from home.
  8. Carry 2 spare tubes. Patching a tube with frozen fingers isn’t easy, should a second flat occur.
  9. Don’t stop for long, if at all. Resumption of the wind chill will make you cold, and you may be unable to shake the shivers the rest of the ride.
  10. Don’t overdo it. As a rule, you can be fairly comfortable for 90 minutes in subfreezing temperatures. But things will deteriorate quickly after that, particularly if you’re raising a sweat.

How to build … abominable abdominals

Six-pack. Roll of dimes. Washboard abs. You know the look–ripped, chiseled, defined. Women scream and brave men shiver.

But you’re a cyclist, you say, not a body builder or a boxer. You don’t need an industrial-strength gut. A cyclist’s stomach muscles just hang there, sagging loosely between hips and ribs, a flaccid bag to hold that energy bar you just ate.

Think again. Your midsection is the link between your legs turning the pedals and your upper body grasping the bars. If that link is weak, your cycling power gets frittered away.

Karin DeBenedetti, M.A., of Western Orthopaedic Sports Medicine in Denver, says strong abs help mountain bikers lift and pull on the handlebar for dynamic singletracking, and on the road they support you in a static position over long distances. But forget benefits. The fact is that without strong abs, cyclists risk injury.

Pedaling gets your glutes (butt muscles) and low-back muscles into shape but does little for the front of your midsection. Your pelvis can become tilted if your strong rear musculature pulls harder than your front, resulting in back pain.

Harvey Newton, editor-in-chief of Strength and Conditioning and long-time strength training adviser to the Olympic cycling team, remembers diagnosing such back pain in an Olympic medalist. “He could squat more than 400 pounds,” says Newton, “but when I tested his abdominal strength he did miserably. No wonder his back hurt–he had a major strength imbalance.”

Rippling abs also help prevent injury during accidents. The next time you fly over the bar on a root-infested trail or slide out on rain-slick paint stripes, spend a little air time thinking about the advantages of a strong gut. A girdle of muscles allows you to curl up and roll protectively and also protects your internal organs.

CRUNCH TIME

Knocking off a few crunchers after a ride is a good way to start improving your abs, but it’s not enough. Instead of concentrating only on the abs, strength experts talk about the “strength pillar” or “core strength.” These terms refer to a strong midsection–abs, low back, hip flexors, and glutes.

Pedaling takes care of the glutes. For the rest, try these 4 simple exercises. You don’t need fancy machines or a 4-figure club membership. You can do these at home anytime, although we prefer after a ride or in the evening while watching TV.

Now the bad news. These workouts are guaranteed to strengthen your stomach–not to give you a ripped bodybuilding look. “Muscle definition is hereditary,” says DeBenedetti. If your parents carried spare tires, then crunchers and cycling might help reduce yours, but you might not shed it completely.

Definition is also a function of total body fat. Lean people show more muscle. Even the most awesome set of abs can be hidden by excess body fat.

Pelvic Tilt LOW BACK AND ABS

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Contract your stomach muscles and slowly push your low back into the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax slowly. This is harder than it sounds–expect quivering abs. Do 20-25, twice a day.

Single Knee to Chest HAMSTRINGS, GLUTES, AND LOW BACK

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently draw one knee to the chest, hold for a count of 3 and return. Alternate legs. Do 20 on each leg.

Crunchers THE BASIC AB EXERCISE

To do a basic cruncher, lie on your back with knees bent 90 degrees and lower legs supported on a couch. Fold arms across the chest. (Don’t lace your hands behind your head; doing this can strain your neck.) To start, pull your chin to your chest, then crunch up, hold 2-3 seconds, and go all the way down. Completely relax between each repetition. To work the oblique muscles at your sides, aim the left shoulder at the right knee for one rep and reverse it the next.

Start with 25 reps and work as high as 200. When that becomes easy, go back to 25 reps but do an advanced version. Hold your unsupported legs up in the air and build to 200. Do 3-7 times per week.

Back Extension LOW BACK

Use a back extension apparatus or have someone hold your legs as you lie on a strong table at home. With hands behind the neck or on your chest, rise slowly so the upper body is parallel to the floor–but don’t go higher. This is a back extension, not a hyperextension.

Begin with a few reps and increase to 3 sets of 25. As you get stronger, you can hold a barbell plate behind your neck for added resistance.

18 tips for good trips

In the 4 years Mike Deme has been leading road tours for Adventure Cycling (406/721-1776, MT), he’s seen his charges make lots of mistakes. Some errors were minor, but others ruined a long-planned vacation. All were avoidable. Here, Deme outlines the most common goofs, then offers solutions.

MISTAKE #1/ON-TOUR TRAINING

“Some people figure they can get in shape on the first week of a road tour. They find out pretty quickly that they should have done it earlier.

“The best approach, if you haven’t been riding much, is to start training 2-3 months before the trip. Start by riding 15 or 20 miles a day, 3 times a week. Raise your mileage 10% per week. The slow, gradual approach is always best.

“Look at your trip itinerary and find your longest day. If it’s 90 miles you should work up to about 70 miles in training. While touring, you can ride about twice as far in a day as you’ve ever ridden while training. But do some long training days anyway to see how your body reacts.”

MISTAKE #2/SAME-SPEED TRAINING

“Don’t just do distance. You need some variation. Intervals are great once you start getting in shape. Try riding all out for 2 minutes then rest for 3 minutes, ride hard for 2 minutes, and so on. Mix it up or you’ll get bored silly.”

MISTAKE #3/IGNORING THE MENTAL

“Be mentally prepared. I’ve seen a lot of people quit a tour because they let things get to them. It’s not a physical problem. You have to be prepared to face difficult times and work through them. You have to convince yourself that you’ll keep going.”

MISTAKE #4/NOT GETTING LOADED

“If you’re going on a camping trip, do at least 2 training rides with the bike fully loaded, especially if you’ve never ridden with panniers. The extra weight changes your bike into a different beast, stability- and handling-wise.

“You have to brake earlier because your bike’s heavier. And you have to stay on top of the bike more in turns. If you lean the bike too low, your front panniers can hit the ground. Also be careful on rough roads, because the initial shock on your wheels is greater with the added weight.”

MISTAKE #5/NEGLECTING BUTT AND HANDS

“Get a comfortable saddle, even if it’s heavy. Chamois salve works for some people, but baby powder is great, especially at night, to keep yourself dry. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing to do but struggle through a miserable break-in period. It usually lasts about 3-4 days. If you’ll be renting a bike, take your own saddle.

“As for hands, padded gloves are great, but moving your hands around on the handlebar is the key. I advocate a drop handlebar, but a mountain bike with bar ends or an aero bar works, too.”

MISTAKE #6/RIDING THE WRONG BIKE

“A touring bike is still the best, although we’re seeing more mountain bike-style frames. Hybrids are not so good. Their geometry tends to be too racing-oriented and they don’t necessarily have braze-ons for racks.

“A 3-chainring setup is a necessity. With 2 rings, you just can’t relax on the climbs–you have to stand. Smooth-tread tires are a must, too.”

MISTAKE #7/CARRYING TOO MUCH

“Take as little stuff as possible. Using something once in a month isn’t a good reason to take it. On a 2-week self-contained trip, 35 to 40 pounds of gear should be all you need. Once you’re packed for 2 weeks, you’re packed for 3 months. You just reuse stuff.

“People tend to take too many clothes, overcompensating for the weather. You don’t need a windbreaker, a rain jacket, and an in-between jacket. Just be ready for heat, rain, and cold. With advances in clothing, especially in underwear, you can get away with carrying a lot less.”

MISTAKE #8/DIET OBSESSION

“Eat well, because you’re cranking. But don’t get anal about the whole thing. I’ve seen vegetarians ride strongly and I’ve seen people who eat total garbage ride strongly. A lot of it’s mental. If you’re convinced your diet will affect your riding, it might.

“Don’t tour to lose weight. You need a lot of carbohydrate. But you also need fat and protein. Your body burns through carbohydrate fast and then goes right to fat. You’ve got to replace it. Also, carry 2 large water bottles. You can never have too much water. I bring a powdered drink mix, too.”

Dirt

As a veteran tour guide for Western Spirit Cycling (800/845-2453), Steve Fenn has led off-road trips in Baja, Mexico; the Klamath National Forest in Northern California; Moab, Utah; and other places. Here’s his view on avoiding the mistakes that mar off-road vacations.

MISTAKE #1/POOR WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION

“People tend to sit on their butts and lean on their hands too much, so I tell them to keep their pedals level and rise 6-8 inches off the seat for tricky terrain. Bend your elbows and knees, and get your weight over the rear tire for descents.”

MISTAKE #2/TENSING UP

“Relax. Riders tend to put too much pressure on their hands. You have to keep a light grip. I demonstrate by cruising along, removing my hands, and showing that I don’t fall forward. Keeping a tight grip also lessens the shock to your elbows and shoulders.”

MISTAKE #3/HEAVY SHIFTING

“When mountain biking, you need to avoid crunching the gears. Do this by lightening the pedal load before a shift. Don’t hit an uphill and expect the gears to change when you’re applying a lot of pressure to the pedals. The best tactic is to shift before you get to a hill, not after. And you must avoid cross-chain gears (large chainring/largest cog or small ring/smallest cog).”

MISTAKE #4/FRONT-BRAKE PHOBIA

“Many people are told never to use their front brake going downhill, but that’s just not true. The front brake supplies the majority of your stopping power. It’s very powerful. You need to use both brakes. Particularly in a straightaway, you can use both confidently. An exception: In a loose corner, lighten up on the front brake.”

MISTAKE #5/SLOW CADENCE

“Don’t be afraid to use first gear. Ned Overend uses his all the time. If you’re working hard and you get to a flat spot, don’t always feel that you have to shift up. Use it as an opportunity to spin and recover. When you’re on a tour, you’ve got to look at the big picture. Pace yourself so you’ll survive the whole day. Spinning helps promote blood flow and makes it easier to recover. You’re not in a race.”

MISTAKE #6/IMPROPER CORNERING

“Lean your bike but keep your body upright. Push down on your outside pedal, and push the front tire directly into the ground. That really helps cornering traction. It’s like skiing, where you’re trying to carve a turn and put your weight into the edges.”

MISTAKE #7/POOR UPHILL STARTS

“Starting on a hill can be a challenge. Put the rear brake on to prevent going backward, then put one pedal up in the power position–between top center and horizontal. Release the brake and apply pedal pressure slowly, not like a piston, so you won’t spin out. Don’t worry about getting the other foot into the pedal or clips until you’re underway.”

MISTAKE #8/NOT DRINKING AND EATING ENOUGH

“Drinking a large bottle per hour is a good rule of thumb for mountain biking in the sun. A CamelBak drinking system is even better. People always tell me, ‘I know my body and I just don’t drink much.’ But it’s not true. They need more fluid than they think. I always carry extra bottles for guests who run out. On tour don’t worry about the weight as much. Always carry more water than you think you’ll need.

“Some people aren’t used to eating on the bike to get through a day of touring. They think it will produce discomfort. But if you’re out longer than 2 hours, you must eat. Practice it ahead of time so you know what your body will tolerate. Breakfast is absolutely essential. It starts the fire going.”

MISTAKE #9/POOR BIKE FIT

“Women have proportionally smaller upper bodies, so they may need a shorter top tube or stem. Also, some people want a wide, soft saddle for a long off-road tour. But once you’re on a hill or in technical terrain, a big saddle will prevent you from using body English. You’ll be more efficient with a narrow saddle that enables you to move around.”

MISTAKE #10/LEAVING THE TOOL KIT BEHIND

“Touring companies generally carry equipment, but you should carry the essentials anyway: pump, patch kit, tube, and multitool. Make sure everything works. And carry identification.”

Weight training for mountain bikers

Hang Around Road Cyclists At The Olympic Training Center, then watch mountain bikers at NORBA national races. You’ll be struck by the difference in physical appearance.

International-level roadies are often lean greyhounds with thin arms, adapted to pedaling elegantly for hours with quiet upper bodies. Their dirt-based brethren are more muscular, ragged, and (dare we say it) often more athletic-looking.

Like any stereotype, there are plenty of exceptions. Mountain bike legend Ned Overend is svelte, and ’94 Tour de France green jersey winner Djamolodine Abdujaparov looks as gnarly as his name. But there’s no denying that as mountain biking matures, the ideal body is emerging–and it generally oozes strength.

The sport requires more total-body fitness–from fingers to quads–than road riding. The heavier bikes are lifted, jumped, wrangled and wrestled over tough terrain, and actions such as extended braking can make forearms and hands burn with lactic acid.

To help you handle these physical challenges, we spotlight 6 cycling-specific exercises and show the riding technique they most directly relate to.

But Weight a Minute

Before you rush to the weight room, a couple of cautions. Done incorrectly, strength training will injure you. And your program must be planned to build strength in winter and maintain it during peak riding season. If you need help in either area, consult a local strength training expert certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

You can also learn from 2 videotapes prepared by Harvey Newton in cooperation with the United States Cycling Federation: Strength Training for Cyclists: Program Planning and The Exercises ($38.95, Newton Sports, 719/475-8366, CO).

The exercises we show here should help get you started. We’re not attempting to teach you how to do them–that’s best left to a NSCA pro or Newton’s teaching tapes.

If you’re one of those cyclists who don’t weight train because it takes too much time and club memberships are expensive, Olympic mountain bike coach Skip Hamilton sympathizes. He says a simpler approach is possible.

“Work the legs on the bike by doing hard 30-second repeats at a cadence of 60-80 rpm. Don’t overgear–just shift 2 cogs harder and go,” explains Hamilton. “Concentrate on pushing and pulling through the pedal stroke. Do this 6 times, once every 5 minutes, so you recover between efforts. It’s a great in-saddle strength builder and it’s more sports-specific than squats.” He recommends doing this workout on the road during a long endurance ride.

For the upper body, Hamilton suggests dips, pullups, and pushups. “I tell the riders I coach to stop at a local park at the end of their ride twice a week and do these exercises on the equipment,” Hamilton says. Or you can buy an inexpensive chinning bar, and do dips on the backs of 2 sturdy chairs. Do crunchers for the abs and lower back.

Although the benefit from these exercises won’t be as great, you’ll still notice a significant increase in strength–and thus your mountain biking. “If you just ride,” says Hamilton, “you won’t reach your potential.”

HERE ARE 4 SPECIFIC REASONS OFF-ROADERS CAN BENEFIT FROM MUSCLING UP.

1 The upper body is an integral part of the pedal stroke in technical riding.

While roadies covet a smooth pedaling action with no upper-body movement, top mountain bikers pull on the bars and rock their shoulders. Elite U.S. mountain bikers tested at the Olympic Training Camp in March of ’94 compared favorably to road riders in V[O.sub.2] max and other measures of pedaling power. But they scored much lower efficiency. It seemed they wasted energy by moving the upper body to much. Or did they? After analyzing hours of videotape, Skip Hamilton concluded that, “due to the nature of the terrain, mountain bikers need to be more animated. Their upper bodies are like can openers that lever along and add to the power of the legs. Look at the top riders. Juli Furtado has tremendous upper body animation.” This is why singletrack makes your arms as tired as your legs. It’s also why ab and lower hack strength are crucial.

2 Mountain biking requires bursts of power from the legs.

Cleaning short, extremely steep hills takes 10 or 15 all-out pedal strokes. Longer hills are usually mined with short sections so steep that thermonuclear gams are the difference between walking and riding. Even the flats conceal rocks and roots that can be cleaned only with a sudden surge at the right time. “Road riders want a smooth stroke,” says Hamilton. “But mountain bikers may need an explosion of effort at any point in the pedal stroke.”

3 Off-roaders need more crash protection.

Mountain bikers dump it more than roadies. Fortunately, most falls are slow speed topples in technical sections, but even these pratfalls can lead to injury without a strong upper body to cushion the impact and distribute the forces.

In a 4-year study of injuries at the NORBA pro/elite level, Ronald Pfeiffer (A.T.C.R., and director of the Human Anatomy Lab at Boise State) found that the most common maladies were wounds, abrasions, and bruises. Fractures were relatively rare, and he uncovered no catastrophic injuries. Pfeiffer, who calls top mountain bikers “gymnasts on the bike,” says that the total-body strength common among these racers could be responsible for keeping minor falls from turning into something more serious.

4 Strength helps prevent fatigue.

Of course, it’s better to prevent falls than survive them. More muscle means more resistance to the fatigue that dulls reflexes and increases the chances of serious soil sampling. “We all love those long adventure rides,” says Hamilton, “and strength means you can outlast the fatigue of descending. Because neuro-muscular control is based on strength, you’ll stay sharp so your technical skills won’t deteriorate.”

9 top training aids

There’s a famous quip attributed to any number of world champions. When asked, “What’s the secret to becoming a great cyclist,” they look straight in the eye and reply, “Ride your bike.”

This canon has served many cyclists well, and it deserves to be the first rule of training. In our books, riders should ride. The more the better. But unlike in times past, there are numerous modern training aids that can make the miles even more worthwhile. Here’s a look at 9 of the best–from the highest of the high-tech to the lowest of the low.

Heart-Rate Monitor

When members of BICYCLING’s Fitness Advisory Board were asked which training aids are most important, one item was on everyone’s list: the heart-rate monitor, especially models that record data so you can analyze workouts. The best ones are wireless. You wear a chest belt that transmits to a wristwatch-like receiver on the handlebar. These are comfortable, durable, and reasonably easy to use. There are also cyclecomputers with built-in heart monitors, including models from Vetta, ACT, and Cateye. All are great for gauging progress, planning workouts, and evaluating effort during training and racing.

Basic units (around $100) display heart rate only, which is enough for many cyclists. Fancier models feature high and low alarms so you can set a target zone. They may even record your heart rate at set intervals so you can later analyze the workout or race. Ultimate models, such as the one shown at right, Polar’s Vantage XL (800/227-1314), even allow you to download the information to a computer and print graphs. For our latest buyer’s guide to heart-rate monitors, with tips for using one, see “Tune Your Engine” in the May ’94 issue.

Training Software

If you’re training scientifically with a heart-rate monitor, the next step is to track your results. Sure, you can write in a notebook, but a computerized diary is much more effective. Like database programs they make short work of calculations, helping you quickly determine such things as cumulative mileage, how your average speed is improving, or how many feet of elevation you’ve totaled. This could be helpful in the weeks before a hilly century or race, for instance. In addition, training programs can put information into easy-to-interpret graphs. And software, unlike log books, doesn’t have to be replaced yearly. Prices run from about $15 for shareware programs (which are somewhat limited) to about $90 for fully featured ones. In our last review (“Computer Coaches,” April ’93), we found 2 good $50 programs, Athlete’s Diary (800/823-4279) and CycleSoft (507/375-4346, MN).

Cyclecomputer

You can’t record workouts accurately without a good cyclecomputer. Distance. Speed. Average speed. Pedal cadence, Elevation gain. Temperature. Elapsed time. These are just some of the stars modern computers disclose. In our August ’94 article, “Tricker Tickers,” we looked at 10 popular models priced from $35 to $99, some with unusual features. For instance, Performance’s CM-400 ($50: 800/727-2453) has dual interval timers with audible alarms, workout memories, and a means of calculating calorie consumption.

Fluid Delivery System

Dehydration limits performance, so training suffers if you don’t drink enough. A couple of water bottles are fine for many workouts, but for longer or hotter rides consider a 36- or 72-ounce CamelBak (abound $40). It’s worn like a backpack to deliver plenty of liquid through a convenient hose that hangs over your shoulder. You bite the mouthpiece, and a natural siphoning action lets liquid flow. Ahhh. You can also stuff small items such as energy bars or tools into the CamelBak pouch, or use a special bag that has pockets and straps for carrying items.

Energy Food

You can’t train effectively if your fuel light is blinking, so find a brand of sports drinks and bars to use before, during, and after riding. There are many to choose from. Taste is important, of course, but so is digestibility. Some riders do fine with products that use fructose as a sweetener and carbohydrate source, while others find it produces gastro upset. Experiment, and don’t neglect common low-tech foods such as fruit, fig bars, and bagels. The idea is to use stuff you enjoy eating, so you’ll eat enough of it. Ample food and liquid is the key to strong performance on any ride that lasts longer than 3 hours.

Indoor Trainer

Stationary cycling has become the buzz now that Graeme Obree and Marry Nothstein have shredded the competition with power attained by pedaling in place. But these park-and-ride devices have always been handy. For instance, by training inside, you can ride and watch the kids. No matter how stormy or dark it is, you can still pedal. Plus, think of the intervals you could do while watching the chase scene in “Bullet” or listening to cranked Pearl Jam. There are many well-made magnetic units, such as Blackburn’s RX-6 TrakStand ($210; 800/776-5677). These support your bike’s rear wheel and provide varying degrees of resistance. Or you can splurge for a computerized model such as Racermate’s CompuTrainer, a $1,200 device that does it all. It’s an indoor trainer connected to a PC, which displays power output in watts so you know what you can generate for how long. It also tells cadence and heart rate. There’s even a little electronic guy you can race, and you can do it on famous courses or enter your own, programming distance, head-winds, climbs, etc. It’s virtual reality training that makes it easy to put in a high-quality effort. Racermate, 206/524-7392 (WA).

Tunes

In most states it’s illegal to ride on public roads while listening to headphones. But they’re plenty safe when you’re spinning indoors. Wear a jersey and you can slip the player into your hack pocket for instant access. Using a radio equipped with preset stations, you can quickly switch among talk shows, sports, and music.

Personal Coach

A good coach can help you achieve your potential by customizing a training program for your needs and goals. And the cost may be much less than you think. To find one, contact local shops, cycling clubs, or check classified ads in the USCF’s Cycling USA (for roadies) or NORBA News (for mountain bikers). You can reach these organizations at 719/578-4581 (CO). Some coaches have a national clientele, relying on periodic phone conversations and data collected with your heart-rate monitor and cycle computer to make training adjustments.

Bike Weights

We probably wouldn’t have included Net Weight Racing’s “Race Weight” if we hadn’t seen it being used by the national team. This training aid is nothing more than a lead weight that’s attached to the bike’s down tube. There are 3 versions: 5.5 lbs. ($52), 7.7 lbs. ($56), and 9.9 lbs. ($60). The theory is, you have to work harder when carrying a hunk of lead so you can fly when it’s removed. The Race Weight attaches with hook-and-loop straps, has rubber pads at contact points to protect the paint, and is coated so you can’t touch the lead. Net Weight Racing, 415/381-3155 (CA). A similar product is made by PIGG Cycle (800/252-9299), which also makes weights that fit into a bottle cage.