Mountain Bike Coach: Chris Beck

I've raced my bike a lot. But it is very rare when I win. Winning a race is a combination of many factors from equipment choice to conditions and preparation. In the past I've done a lot of research to make up for lack of experience. I've put in lots of rides and intervals to try to get in top form for races. Ultimately though, it was just a lot of research and intervals. It wasn't actual experience and actually specific training. I have known Chris Beck for quite a while as we both frequent the trails north of Baltimore. It wasn't until we started riding together more that I realized that he was not only an exceptional mountain biker and athlete, but he also was a coach.

This year, I've set some big goals for myself in racing, hoping to springboard off good results in 2013 to reach for higher heights in 2014. When I began working with Chris, I fully expected to get interesting workouts from him and improve my skills gradually. Fitness doesn't happen over the course of weeks, but months. I figured by late spring, he would have me in good shape, but that any gains would be baby steps, and marginal at best. And, I was completely wrong.

Every week Chris is talking to me about my equipment selection, my workouts and my skills. We've ridden together a bit and he has turned me from a competent bike driver, to one of the fastest in the area. Even mid winter, I've set power records and have nabbed some KOM's in the woods. His workouts are transforming my riding. Literally.

With skills, comes confidence. With confidence, comes speed. Mix that together with good fitness, and you get a wicked fast mountain biker. That is what Chris is pushing me towards. And its working. He's an excellent coach and a great guy to boot. Check him out at

How to Use a Power Meter (part 1)

power meter

A power meter is a tool. While they do output complex data, at the end of the day, it is just data. Many feel overwhelmed with what to do with a power meter. Books have been written about the subject to try and capture how to most effectively use this tool. Often the very nature of this overflow of information causes potential users to be scared off, and end up not using these incredible tools that we have. But there is a simpler way, a more basic method to using them that is accessible to all.

Here is exactly how I use my Quarq Riken  power meter. I've used  and Golden Cheetah in the past, and they offer excellent analysis tools. But, for the sake of simplicity, I use  Strava


power performance
power performance

When you first get a power meter, it is important to go out and ride with it even if you don't know what you're looking at. You'll begin the process of collecting the data you need to establish a baseline for understanding your personal power abilities. I use a

Garmin 510

as a head unit and set my screens to include 3 second Power, Average Power and Normalized Power for a given ride. This tells me a few things specifically while I'm riding.

First, what power I'm doing at this exact moment. This is helpful for glancing down and seeing that in my 53x11, on a flat road, at 450w I'm going 30 mph. Or on a 5% climb at 300w I'm climbing at 12mph. It gives you an instantaneous snap shot of the effort you are putting out. Over time, this will help you get an idea of what your Perceived Exertion is at a given wattage output. Also, as you begin to learn your output abilities, you will discover what you are able to do for certain time intervals which will be important later on.

Second, your average power will depict what the average wattage has been for the duration of your ride. If you go up a 1 hour climb at 250w, turn around and coast down the other side of the mountain at 0w for another hour, your average for the ride will be 125w. This is a number that you can use to quantify how hard a ride was in real time. However, a road race would have lots of coasting at 0w which would influence the total average while a time trial would have a steady wattage output thus making them both (by the numbers) appear different. The road race will look like it was an "easier" ride, and the time trial will appear to have been more difficult because of the higher average. This is not always the case, but leads us to the third item.

Third, normalized power is an algorithm that outputs what the computer guesses you would have put out on average had the effort been "even" and devoid of any 0w moments. It eliminates the coasting from a ride and shows you what the effort really was on your body. You may often do fast road rides at an average of 250w but your normalized power could be closer to 300w. This would mean that if you had just gone out and done the same amount of effort in a time trial of that distance, you would have put out 300w to achieve approximately the same effort as the 250w average cost you. The reason for this is that often times in road rides, there are sharp spikes in effort or speed because of steep climbs, attacks, sprints, drafting, etc. The normalized number attempts to smooth this out and give you a theoretical number of what that effort was in terms of steady watts.

power meter history
power meter history

Now that you have your screens set up, you can begin collecting data. After a few rides, you will have what Strava calls a Best Efforts Power Curve that will show up on your ride page. This curve shows you the current ride power curve directly compared to your historical power curve. If you run your mouse along the curve, you'll notice that 3 values show: duration, power today, best power historically. You can adjust what your historical power shows by last 6 weeks, a given year, or a custom range. I always leave mine on the given year that I am in.

power curve
power curve

After a few tough rides and races, your power curve will begin to accurately represent what you are capable of. This is the key to your power meter, and it dictates everything that I do with mine.

Check out more in Part 2 of the series.

Toughen Up

Tougen Up

Every branch of the military has a boot camp. Ask anyone in the service, they went through it. Typically the more demanding their role is, the tougher their boot camp was. I've heard many guys from flight navigators to special forces operators say they thought they were going to die during their version of boot camp. Death. When was the last time you thought you were going to die because of how far you were pushing yourself? Why do they do it? Because when they're on the front line, or behind enemy lines and everything is falling apart, they need to be able to think of a time when things were worse. A time when they were in more pain then they are at present. This morning the alarm went off at 5am. It was pitch black outside with 90% humidity. I got on my bike and met up with some guys for what historically is a painfully fast ride. Just as we started, it began to rain. Not sprinkle. Not drizzle. Pour.

It was miserable.

These guys are tough though. They went harder, dug deeper, and suffered more than ever. We set some records this morning, having gone faster than ever before, even in fair weather. I hated the pain, the hour of the day, the muggy weather, being soaked to the bone; but I'm tougher now.

You know what's going to happen next time we ride in mild conditions? That toughness is going to come out to play. The toughness that we built up a bit this morning is going to push us to new limits; the old ones are gone. New horizons await. New records. New goals.

So get up early. Go exercise when its dark. Go workout when its cold. Winter is not an excuse to stay inside. Summer and dehydration is not a reason to go easier. Run faster. Lift more. Two more reps. Excuses only weaken you.

You want to be better? You want to blow past your goals? Toughen up. It's been worse, and it can get worse, so get going.