Just Keep Pedaling

This is the seventh and final in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

In less than five months, Ashley and I have moved from thinking that our 10 mile training ride was quite an impressive feat to considering 25 miles a leisurely jaunt. It’s amazing how quickly your perspective can change! Continue reading

Enjoy the Ride

This is the sixth in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

You’re probably riding your bicycle because you enjoy it. Whether you are seeking the thrill of a victorious race, trying to beat your personal best time, or simply pedaling because you like the feel of the wind in your face – it’s fun. Continue reading

Hills Are In Your Head

This is the fifth in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

Pedaling up a hill is hard, even if knowing that the other side provides an enjoyable downhill respite. The absolute hardest part of a hill, though, is the mountain that grows in your head.

Continue reading

Eat Today, Ride Tomorrow

This is the fourth in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

It simply amazes me how much of a difference food and water make on a bike ride.

You can be struggling along, with barely the energy to push the pedal one more time, fighting against the wind and barely beating gravity on the hills. Then you stop for water and maybe a snack. Suddenly the pedals seem to push themselves, the wind is merely refreshing and you realize that the mountain you were fighting was merely a molehill. Continue reading

Proper Equipment Is Important

This is the third in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

Without equipment (like, say, a bicycle) you won’t get very far. Without proper equipment, you will get there but you might not enjoy the ride.

Road bikes are made for the road. Their skinny tires and longer wheelbases provide less rolling resistance and more stability. With no suspension they’re not designed to be cushy rides, but since they live on (theoretically) smooth blacktop they don’t need a lot of springs to take up huge bumps and holes.

Mountain bikes are made for off-road. Their wide, knobby tires are made to provide grip. Lower gears mean they won’t win any speed trials but they will allow you to get up those hills and over any obstacle you encounter. Modern suspension systems help smooth out the rocks, roots, logs and holes you’ll inevitably encounter.

They Make A Bike Just For You

No matter what type of riding, in what type of setting, you want to do, there is probably a bicycle made for it. Road touring, mountain, BMX tricks, sprint racing, recumbent, and even one-wheeled unicycles! Don’t sell yourself short by just buying the cheapest set of wheels you can find. Research, talk to knowledgeable people at local bicycle shops, try out a variety of bike styles and sizes, and learn what will best fit you and do what you want to do. Then get the best bike.

Yes, this might mean that you need more than one bicycle. Personally, I have two – a mountain bike for off-road and a touring bike for on-road. Both have their places and are appreciated when I use them. They are not interchangeable – I have ridden the mountain bike long distances and was exhausted the next day. Likewise I have tried to ride the road bike through sand trails, without any luck.

It’s Not All About The Bike

There are hundreds of bicycle accessories. And all of them have thousands of varieties. Once you start riding, if you’re anything like me, you will feel downright out-of-place when you don’t have all of the gear. So many other riders look like professionals in their clothes and with their accessories – you’ll feel like you stick out like a sore thumb.

After 1,170+ miles, I still don’t have a jersey, spandex shorts, or bicycle gloves. While I can’t tell you what you do and don’t need, I can share what I find invaluable from the gear that I have.

If you saw me ride past, you might notice that I’m wearing a wicking short-sleeved sport shirt from WalMart. Or spot the running shorts that I’ve had for years. Maybe you’d notice that I have on ye-olde running shoes sitting flat on my stock pedals – no fancy clipless pedals for this guy.

Some Things You Just Have to Have

You would see that I have on a helmet, at all times. Likewise, I hate riding without my clip-on rear-view mirror (due to my handlebar configuration the only place for me to put a mirror is on either my helmet or glasses.) Unseen would be the padded bicycle shorts that are underneath my shorts – these things make world of difference and were less than $20 on Amazon.

The water bottles in my two bottle holders are the same 23.7 oz SmartWaters that I picked up on a road trip months ago. They fit well in the holder and have an easily accessible flip-top lid that I can use while riding. Refill after each ride and I’m ready to go.

Maybe They Make A Difference

I hear good things about riding gloves. And everyone seems to be wearing a jersey. What kind of a cave-man doesn’t use clipless pedals?

Maybe there are benefits to all of the other accessories that I am simply unaware of. One day, I’m sure that I will test them out. Until that time, I am a biker because I pedal.

Start with the bicycle and helmet, have fun, and build from there!

Always Have A Spare

This is the second in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

In 4 days Ashley and I had 3 flats on our bicycles. None of them were conveniently located right next to our RV. If we hadn’t had patch kits and/or spare innertubes with us, we would have had a long walk waiting us.

If you spend any time on a bicycle I recommend you carry a patch kit or a spare tube and any necessary tools. Taking a 30 minute break to fix a flat results in a much more enjoyable day than a multi-hour walk back home would.

Learn At Home

Trust me, learning how to do maintenance on the trail side is not very fun. And some places don’t have cell signal, so you won’t have the option of learning from YouTube like I did (and did you know that you can take tires and tube off of a wheel without tire irons? Me neither, until I realized that I had left mine at home.)

Familiarize yourself with the tools and skills while in the comfort of home, when you don’t need them yet. Future you will be immensely grateful.

An Ounce Of Prevention

There’s something to that old saying. Like cars, bicycles have a recommended maintenance schedule. Every time you go out, for example, you need to check that you have plenty of air pressure in your tires. Not oiling your chain every so often not only shortens the life of your chain and sprockets, but makes it harder to pedal!

There are a lot of bicycle maintenance checklists out there (like this one). Bikes aren’t complicated systems. You can learn to work on them yourself and save lots of headache later by ensuring that your routine maintenance is kept up.

Master Your Ride

Your bicycle is a vehicle. In order to keep it running optimally you need to be familiar with how it works, how to keep it working, and how to fix it when something goes wrong – and know that there are some things that will go wrong. Fortunately, parts and tools are relatively cheap and easily stored. And it’s easy to learn.

Here’s What I Carry (in case you’re curious)

Pedal Smart, Not Hard

This is the first in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa.

This piece of advice distills what might be the most importance information that I have learned along the road. It is what made it possible for Ashley and I to ride 75 miles in a day and feel confident that we could do more (and, indeed, we plan on doing a “century ride” a week or two after the RAGBRAI – riding 100 miles in a single day).

If you look into bicycling you will notice that there are frequent mentions of pedaling cadence. Basically, the rate in which you are pedaling, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM) of the pedal. Generally speaking, 90 RPM is recommended as an average optimum speed to maximize speed while minimizing leg fatigue, and some racers aim for closer to 110 RPM. A beginner biker is commonly guessed to pedal at 70 RPM.


The way to learn your bicycling cadence is by using a cadence monitor (which is yet another piece of equipment that I have yet to feel the need for) so I have no idea what my pedaling speed is.

Pedal with your lungs

The theory is that when you use higher gears (harder to pedal) and pedal slower you are primarily using your leg muscles. While that might help you go faster or power up a hill quickly it also tires your muscles and, in the long term, slows you down.


By using lower gears (making it easier to pedal) your leg muscles don’t have to work as hard. In fact, your heart and lungs will be the limiting factor, so long as you have energy to pedal.

Pedal Fast, Not Hard

Keeping this concept in mind I experimented with different gears and discovered that, though I have no idea how fast I am pedaling, I am able to keep up my speed yet finish my ride with energy reserves by pedaling fast, not hard. 

Without a cadence monitor, my guideline is to stay in the lowest gear (easiest to pedal) that allows me to pedal without my body bouncing with each revolution.

This keeps me pedaling quickly without exhausting my legs, allowing me to maintain speed while reserving energy. This works uphill, downhill, and on flat ground. It can mean shifting more than I would like to as I stay in my ideal range, especially on slightly rolling hills.

Matthew tested, Matthew approved

This is by no means scientificly researched. Prior to learning about pedaling cadence I primarily used 3 gears of the 21 availble on my bicycle. I could ride 10 miles on my lunch break but was exhausted with wobbly legs afterward. Learning to use the entire range of gears on my bicycle allowed me to ride 10 miles on my lunch break but be energetic and ready for more at the end.

Pedal fast and use your gears, even if it means shifting more frequently than you might prefer. Your legs will thank you!

7 Lessons Learned While Riding 1,171 Miles

Since March 16, Ashley and I have ridden at least 1,170.96 miles in training for the RAGBRAI, a 7-day cross-state touring ride across Iowa that starts this Sunday (July 19th). A year and a half ago we weren’t really bike riders. I enjoyed riding casually, for fun and Ashley didn’t care for it at all.

A little more than a year ago she borrowed a mountain bike from my mom and realized she greatly enjoyed it. While planning our round-the-country RV trip we realized that there was neither a National Park nor a National Forest in Iowa and remembered a link that Mom had sent about a cross-state bicycle ride. After researching further, Ashley decided that she wanted to do it.

So we began riding with a purpose and purchased road bikes. I tracked mileage ridden on my new-to-me bicycle. Along the way, we learned a few things. Some from others, some from reading, and some the hard way.

In honor of our ride across Iowa, here are some of the lessons we’ve learned, which will be posted one per day during our ride:

  • Pedal Smart, Not Hard
  • Always Have A Spare
  • Proper Equipment Is Important
  • Eat Today, Ride Tomorrow
  • Hills Are In Your Head
  • Enjoy the Ride
  • Just Keep Pedaling

Back in the Saddle

Nope, it’s not horse-back riding… I’m back on my bicycle, and it feels good! (so long as the hill is not too steep or long, of course.)

Until about 4 days ago, I hadn’t ridden my bicycle since December. It’s kinda hard to pack a bicycle in a suitcase (especially since I don’t have a folding bike). I was bicycle-less while in Ireland, and again after returning; not that a bicycle would have done me much good during the hectic month or so of cross-country driving.

Now I’m getting back in the swing of things. Work is going strong, finals are coming to a close and school is starting back up. Since everything is ramping back up to full time, and my wife and I’s schedules do not quite coincide, the bikes are being put back into action.

While I am definitely not in the shape that I was back in December (oh how my legs scream on the hills!) it certainly feels good to be riding again. It’s only a matter of time until I get back in shape (and with the way my schedule’s looking… it’ll be a short time).

Not only is it nice to be back on the bike, but it’s also a step towards one of the goals on my list. Some daily riding with longer rides once a week will be the small stepping stones I need to take to get there.

What did you used to do that you miss? Why aren’t you doing it now? No good reason? Go, do it!

Taking Stock

Life can get over-whelming fast, can’t it? Sometimes you just have to take a moment, sit back, and take stock of what’s happened and plan for what’s coming up.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened in my life recently:


  • Dad passed away the week before finals
  • Moved out of Ireland (in two days!) and drove from Kentucky to Colorado
  • Dealt with Dad’s affairs (or at least we got started doing so
  • Realized why we don’t ever talk to any of the family
  • Drove back home Hint: Always make sure the moving truck has cruise control!
  • Unloaded everything, found storage places for it
  • Drove to Lexington and found an apartment
  • Moved into apartment & got mostly settled (this and the previous step took about 4 days)
  • Drove back home & helped prepare for the annual family BBQ (my wife’s family, love em!)
  • Returned to Lexington and prepared to be here for awhile
  • My wife’s mom and one of the nieces came to visit for a weekend
  • Family friend passed away
  • Drove back home for funeral
  • Returned to Lexington again (Coming to lexington to this point is about a 2.5 week timeframe)
  • Finally able to settle down, put the finishing touches on the apartment, and return to the dreaded jobs…

Whew! Lots of unexpected traveling, messy situations and general confusion. That’s life, though, right?



  • Our finals are coming up over the next couple of weeks, and we’re dreading those. However, it will be wonderful to get them completed and behind us. As long as we pass… -crosses fingers- I’ve never felt so un-prepared for an exam, ever. E.V.E.R.
  • About a week later, school will resume and we’ll be hitting the books (not that we’ve stopped much this year).
  • Then the fun begins…

  • Early September will see us, along with our church group and some of our closest friends, heading to South-eastern Tennessee for some white-water rafting goodness. A fun-filled weekend of water, rappelling, spelunking and hiking. We can’t wait!
  • Still in the planning stages is a road trip to Texas, to visit friends and family. This will be later in the year, during some as yet unknown school break.

Looking back (and ahead), it’s been a full year. Studying abroad, driving half-way across the U.S. (I think half of it was Kansas), moving, spending time with friends and family and so much more. We try to make sure that our enjoyable activities outweigh the bad ones so that we can remain charged and retain our positive attitudes. So far so good!