Saturday, April 24, 2010


A couple of weeks ago the 108th edition of the Paris-Roubaix bike race was held. This is one of the best bike races of the year because of the extreme conditions that the riders have to race through. If you’re into watching bike racers suffer (which I am) this is the race for you. This race is an amazing sight to see.

In the days leading up to this race I was in despair because I knew I was tied up for most the day so I wouldn’t be able to watch it. As I ate breakfast before heading out for the day the thought occurred to me that I might be able to watch 15 minutes of the race on the internet. I quickly sat down at our computer and searched for a live feed of the race. Magically, I found a live feed and I was in business. I could almost hear the hallelujah chorus as I watched Fabian Cancellara punish the rest of the field. After a couple of minutes of sheer joy I noticed something strange. The feed that I was watching was in Italian. The funny thing is it didn’t bother me at all. Was I losing it? Was I the only weird American watching an Italian feed of Paris-Roubaix? No way, in addition to the video feed there was also a chat window to the side of it and everyone who was chatting was speaking English. I joined in on the chat to figure out where big George Hincapie was and sadly he wasn’t in contention.

After my 15 minutes of cycling joy I had to shut the computer down to head out for the day. As I drove down the road heading to my destination I realized I had just added another item to my list of You Know You’re A Cyclist If list.

You know you’re a cyclist if you watch the Paris-Roubaix at 6:45am on a Sunday morning in Italian AND LIKE IT.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Energy Gel Recipe

Have you ever built a huge camp fire while you’re out camping with friends or family and stepped back with an admiring look on your face and exclaimed “Now that’s a fire”? Or upon building what you deem is the world’s best sandwich you say out loud for all to envy “That’s what I call a sandwich”.

Why are we so proud of ourselves when we build, create, develop, or even destroy something? I believe it’s because we did it with our own hands. There’s a sense of pride and satisfaction that we get when we make something on our own as opposed to going down to the store and merely buying it. And as an added bonus 9 times out of 10 it’s a lot cheaper to make something than buy it.

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about all of the training rides that I have planned in preparation for doing the STP and how I’m going to have to figure out how to eat on the bike if I’m going to do a double century in a reasonable amount of time. In my case if I’m going to eat on the bike it’s going to be in the form of a gel.

If you haven’t had a gel before you don’t know what you’re missing. Gel comes in a little packet and depending on the flavor that you buy tastes like a couple bites of really delicious pudding. Mmmmmm pudding……… The amazing thing about gel is that it provides immediate energy to your legs. There have been a number of times that I’ve been out for a ride and feel like I’ve completely run out of gas and upon eating a gel I feel like I could ride another 100 miles. They are the cycling equivalent to the illusive elixir of life.

The only downside to gel is the expense. A tiny packet of gel generally cost $1.25 and on a long ride I could consume 4 or more of these life savors. That’s not bad for one ride but it adds up over time and it’s kind of a hassle to have sticky gel packets stuck in your seat bag or other places such as the side of your jersey (without you knowing it).

So, the other day I thought to myself “Mike, you should do some research and start making your own gel”. On this occasion I agreed with myself and decided to do just that. Of course I went straight to the authority on this subject, the internet (Thanks Al Gore). The first couple of searches that I did turned up a mountain of strange recipes that ranged from straight honey to mashed up berries. None of these things sounded anything like the ingredients that I see on the side of a gel packet but then I came across a great article written by someone named Travis. This article talks about some of the science behind what is in gel but in an understandable way and also offers a simple recipe. Here’s a link to this article if you’re interested in further reading which I’m sure you are.

I didn’t follow Travis’s recipe exactly because I wanted to customize it a bit so here is what I came up with.

Brown Rice Syrup (75%)
Agave Nectar (a little less than 25% of the total quantity desired)
Sea Salt (very small amount)
Fruit puree (just enough to add some flavor and color)

I really like this recipe because all of the ingredients are easy to find at the health food section of most grocery stores. Here is how I put it together.

I started by determining how much gel I wanted to make. In my case I own a gel flask which is basically a mini water bottle used to store gel. My gel flask holds ½ of a cup of gel so this is the amount that I wanted to end up with.

Then using the percentages above I filled up a 1 cup measuring cup half way. I know that’s not very technical or exact but for me it was easier just to eyeball a 1 cup measuring cup half way. For the puree I took some frozen blackberries that I picked in the park across the street from our house and put them in a food processor (fake magic bullet) and ground them up.

Since everything in this recipe is fairly thick once I had it all in my measuring cup I put it in the microwave oven for 45 seconds to heat it up. This thinned out the ingredients enough to be able to mix them up with a spoon.

Once everything was mixed up I poured the gel into my flask and put it in the refrigerator for my ride the next morning. That’s all there was too it. The total process took 20 minutes or so and that included the cleanup.

The final test

The next day I completed a 73 mile ride on some Gatorade and my flask of gel and felt great the whole ride. For a source of energy this gel worked most excellent. The only downside was since I used blackberries for flavor there was a high concentration of seeds in it. These seeds loved the nozzle of my flask and clogged it the first time I attempted to consume some gel. I finally I just took the top off of the flask. The flavor was great but I did end up spitting a lot of seeds every time I ate some.

Next time I’m going to definitely to strain the seeds out before I add the blackberries. Better yet I'd like to come up with a chocolate flavored gel. Got any ideas on how to do that? If anyone else tries to make their own gel I’d like to hear how it works for you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Signs of Spring

Even though the rain is coming down sideways today, yesterday we made it to the tulip festival to check out the signs of spring. Yes, there is still hope!