Blogs | Sports | News

James Knox's Biking Blog

April 30, 2015
by James Knox

No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Digital EPO and E-Doping


Digital EPO or E-Doping

“What the heck is that?” you ask? I’m seeing if Mr. T and Nancy Reagan are available to be the spokespeople for this great cause.

The definition could be as follows: cheating on a fitness app to gain King of the Mountain (KOMs) or other digital prizes and imaginary awards.

Neither is in the Urban Dictionary but they should be. I mean, “Post Fartum Depression” is.


A few weeks ago I posted a picture of my Zwift avatar wearing the Orange leader’s jersey and crushing out 500+ watts. (See previous post)

Perspective…I have no clue how many watts I can produce or should produce. I just got a heart rate monitor last year. I do not own a power meter for my road bike or smart stationary trainer with one.

That said I rode around for lap after lap on Zwift Island hammering away. Sweating my butt off. Then someone chatted that I should “check my set-up” and “my numbers seemed way off’’. The telltale was when some one sarcastically said, “seems legit” while waving the Red Flag of sarcasm.

So, I exited the island amid tensions that would rival an expelled dictator and looked up what my numbers should be. Well, its more like half of that 500+ if I’m realistic. I looked up past rides on my Garmin site and Strava for real, race-time efforts. I maxed out at 445 on a final sprint of a recent race. I remember that I held that for like ten seconds then probably blacked out. Pro cyclist Jens Voigt who recently took the hour record hummed along at 400 watts for an hour. Me I’m more of a 250-300 watt creature.

To take my problem global I started a comment section on the Zwft website. Ten seconds later I was trapped under an avalanche of criticism and vitriol. But, as clueless as I was, there must be people out there doing this for real. And to what end?

There is a website called Digital that claims to be able to juice your numbers by messing with your Garmin data in a way that is not so blatant as my faux paux. Reviewers of this website post critiques with titles like: “How to be a scumbag on Strava with digital epo” or, “How to spot digital EPO cheats on Strava”. Ah, the digital democracy.

Why do people cheat like this? Vanity. Plain and simple.

A well-known cycling magazine published a story a few years ago about guys doping at local masters races. DOPING! Just to win a pair of socks or bragging rights. I race those kinds of races here in Pittsburgh (we jokingly refer to them as the “Weekly World Championships”). The competition is fierce among guys who race for fun and the prize money for first place is usually around $15. These dopers are out there spending thousands of dollars and putting their health at risk for what? Pride and vanity.

E-doping is safer I guess than injecting yourself with hormones or steroids but who wants to cheat themselves? The use of Strava is mainly as a barometer or measuring stick for your personal development. They’re a perfect way to track your progress and improvement. The KOMs and other awards are incentives for you to strive to be your best. E-doping is just buzz kill pure and simple.

I am truly sorry to all my Zwift Island companions and I will see you tomorrow and kick your butt the right way, with my legs and not my mouse.


April 23, 2015
by James Knox

No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Welcome to Zwift Island



“Smiles, smiles everyone.”

— Mr. Roarke, Fantasy Island

Well, if Zwift Island is my own personal Fantasy Island then Mr. Roarke might instead say, “Grimaces, everyone…Grimaces.” Or Tattoo might be heard shouting from the rooftop bell tower, “Da Pain!! DA PAIN!!!!!”

Zwift, the multi-player cycling workout/videogame launched in a private Beta mode over the winter is a video game where YOU power the outcome. It attempts to kill the monotony of indoor workouts on a stationary trainer. Dead.

As a Beta Tester plucked out of obscurity (really, I never win ANYTHING) a month or so ago I have been tooling around the virtual world where Watts are what matter to win. You are unaware that you are actually working out. I mean when I play video games with my sons we can blow a whole afternoon. This has the same effect. Except for the fact that you can burn 1,500 calories in the act.


All you need for this trip is a computer, a few ANT+ devices and an ANT+ USB dongle (about $40). The dongle was having trouble staying connected to my cadence and speed sensor at first but at the prompting of a swift and cheery support guy named Jason K. I added a USB extension chord to put the dongle closer to the sensors. I also shut off my fan, which was creating a wave of interference. The field that fans generate is only in a sphere around them. As long as you position the fan so that it’s not in between your sensors and your ANT+ dongle, it shouldn’t cause interference. But, the sweating made it seem more real, so off it stayed.

The idea for Zwift came to video game engineer and avid cyclist John Mayfield when the tedium of indoor training led him to create an early version of the game and post it on the triathlon website The game was so well received that Mayfield hooked up with financier and lifelong cyclist Eric Min to launch the interactive addiction to a lucky few testers over the winter. The game is now open for anyone to join (free, for now) the Beta mode. This fall will mark the end of the Beta phase and the cost will be around $10/month according to Zwift Communications Director Mark Riedy.

Zwift users can tie in to social media fitness sites like Strava and hook up for virtual group rides at specific times with other users. Or, should I say gamers?

“The community is engaged in trying to make it better and, their using it (Zwift) in ways we didn’t anticipate,” Riedy said.


The Island comes up on Starva as Jarvis Island–a real place in the Pacific Ocean. The actual Jarvis Island is home to a giant guano pile, (bat poop) once mined there for fertilizer in the 19th century. It can still be seen via Google Earth on the uninhabited island about halfway between Hawaii and the Cook Islands. Not really Fantasy Island. If your fantasy involves bat poop, I don’t want to know about it. Ever.

The graphics on the fake island are vivid and real and add to the competitive drive that makes this game so addictive. Passing people makes me happy and chasing down people and leaving them in your dust is so satisfying. I even wore the Orange leader’s jersey for 5 laps on my last ride. Eat my guano dust y’all.

Zwift Island does let you ride off into the sunset through the palm trees even if it is snowing outside. Fantasy: granted.




March 18, 2015
by James Knox

No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Exit the Pain Cave



My winter training plan was going great, until the Internet happened.

I had been building my winter base miles, (whatever that really means, I’m not sure) alternating between suffering mightily and spinning easy while binge watching The Walking Dead. I even made my own training video with some footage I shot during one of the races last year and some other rides around town and tons of heavy metal. (Thats a still from my cockpit-cam above!)

Lots of heavy interval days with light spinning mixed in to keep fresh. I cut out beer during weekdays and dialed down my calorie intake. I was even lifting weights. Gasp!

I was dialing in nicely for the start of the season for me in April. The Old Fat Guys Racing Circuit, the OFGRC for short wouldn’t know what hit it. My legs were getting like two sinewy pillars of power.

Then, I read something really interesting on this Internet thing.

Lets just be clear, any idiot with a fifth-grade reading level can have a blog. Look at me. I aced the fifth grade. A major word of caution here: don’t believe everything you read.

The article I read talked about heart rate training. This guy said essentially that to build aerobic ability and burn fat you need to go 180 minus your age during training and you will notice amazing differences in stamina, weight and your wallet. Anaerobic training (what, I guess I was doing) was BAD. It makes you fat and will give you halitosis. I was hooked. So for two weeks I trained with my heart rate at a consistent 139 BPM. The Walking Dead season four was just released on Netflix. It was perfect storm.

Wow, I felt great. Until, I took the training outside.

I felt like I was 300lbs and my brakes were stuck and my tire was flat. Well, my tire was flat. Really 7 miles in I was sweating like a pig and my tire was empty. So was I. That’s what I get for leaving the training tire on the back. Now, I’m really mad. Change said flat tire and head home. I love riding mad. You go so fast and aggressive.

So, I got home and rethought my training plan. Pain, pain, pain.

139 BPM is OK if you want to fit into your pants but, I want to win or at least not get spit out the back. 180 here I come and I’m mad.


March 2, 2015
by James Knox

No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Chatting with Lance



My 140th Twitter follower sent me the above direct message last week. This guy named Lance Armstrong asked “Just how is it you propose I ‘help fix’ the sport?”

My first thought was now we’re getting somewhere with this blog. Then, the sarcasm-meter went off. It was really him. I checked.

“When was I ever gonna get this chance again?” I said. “Well, I’ll tell him my thoughts as a Category V amateur with 6 years of occasionally racing bikes under my belt. I have his ear. He’s seen my credentials and is seeking out my wisdom!”

Let me just say that I am a naive idealist and want everybody to be pals so, we chatted online for about an hour. I told him to bear all, warts and all. He could lift his life-time ban from cycling with truth with tears. I also said he could own a team run for Governor of Texas. Or, do like Forrest Gump and ride back and forth across the US. Gump used it to perfection to get over a troubled time and brought the country behind him.

He said he was busy raising five kids. I told him I’ve got only four kids. I had to use two testicles to do it, too. A sign of weakness!

I did invite him to ride the 2015 Dirty Dozen with me. He could crash at my house, I told him. He said, “Thanks for the offer but I don’t ride anymore!” His Twitter feed is filled with him on recent rides with friends at event rides. I’ll take that as the final brush off. The Twitter version of “The Look”.

According to a story published on Cycling News’ website recently [1] the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), who “would have the last word on any ban” it’s a nice thought but a little late.

“Despite Mr. Armstrong publicly claiming he wants to help, privately since June 2012, he has repeatedly rejected the opportunity to do so and has shut the door on his chance,” USADA said last year.

“Much of the information we understand that Mr. Armstrong could have provided is of little, if any, value now, as it has already been uncovered through other avenues or soon will be.”

Well I guess I was right. I was just a little late.

Lance addressed his bullying of fellow racers and media in a BBC interview [2]. The one where he famously said recently that if he had to go back to 1995 he would dope again. He was once a person you did not piss off. Unless you didn’t want to cover the Tour de France you had to toe the line. What have I got to be bullied with? I write this blog on general cycling topics in my spare time. My role as a journalist is limited to photographing news and sports in South Western PA. He did admit however remorse in that interview over how he treated people and who had become in his quest to win. But, was I getting a taste of his wrath for calling him out?

I personally thought it was a cool example of the beauty of social media. I had a chat with THE Lance Armstrong. It was, in hindsight riddled with condescending sarcasm but it’s the same as when I jaw with my brothers online.

I’ll tell you, I did really start wondering where he would sleep if he did come to Pittsburgh for the Dirty Dozen. What kind of beer to buy, if I could ride with a granny gear next to him up Canton Ave? Then, reality set in.

He’s not coming.

He did ride up East Sycamore Street in Pittsburgh once I think during the race series where he won a million bucks. He probably decided not to come because of that. It’s one of the easier hills in the race. But, it’s OK. That’s what I’m going with.

Which got me thinking, what would you say to him if you had the chance? Did I blow it? Would you spend it screaming at him or defending him?

Would he want to hear it? Would it benefit anyone?

And, more importantly…would you want him to stay at YOUR house?









February 26, 2015
by James Knox

No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Slaying it, with the Badger



“Cycling is an individual sport, practiced by teams.”

–Samuel Abt, quoted in “Slaying the Badger”

Netflix started showing a documentary to compliment the book “Slaying the Badger” by Richard Moore. Its subtitle is “Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault and the Greatest Tour de France”.

I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book. It was out at the library when I searched it. But, having actually gone to film school, I guess I could check it out on my TV.

Netflix may be known for some fancy Kevin Spacey show or being the best-known streaming service but in my house it’s known for weird, obscure crap that only dad likes. One of my favorite Netflix docs (as my kids will attest) is Hell on Wheels or, Höllentour about Germany’s Team Telekom in the 2003 TDF. I have made them sit through this too many times to count.

ESPN calls it this way: Before Lance Armstrong, there was Greg LeMond, who is now the first and only American to win the Tour de France. In this engrossing documentary, LeMond looks back at the pivotal 1986 Tour, and his increasingly vicious rivalry with friend, teammate, and mentor Bernard Hinault. The reigning Tour champion and brutal competitor known as “The Badger,” Hinault ‘promised’ to help LeMond to his first victory, in return for LeMond supporting him in the previous year. But in a sport that purports to reward teamwork, it’s really every man for himself.

This story shows us how, at this level there are no friends, only deals, politics and bullies. The naive LeMond moved to Europe to race when he was a teen. The film claims that LeMond rose with such promise in the States that Hinault wanted him on his team so he wouldn’t have him as an opponent. It all kind of backfires. Hilarity ensues.

The “Badger” is more like a 20/20 piece inspired by a true-account book of a great story. The archival footage is great. I had no idea John Tesh covered the Tour de France. I’m going out to buy his Music from the Tour de France, Vol. I right now!

As a true sicko, I watched it in my pain cave while spinning on my trainer. Just to suffer alongside the only American to ever (officially) win the Tour de France. As a part of ESPN Films 30 for 30 series director John Dower does a great job of balancing the information for both uninitiated cycling fan and with nuts like me. My French is a bit rusty but a few moments stand out as awesome.

For example, the moment when LeMond’s race director Paul Köchli is asked about the ability of cyclist to suffer and he says, “Bull. It’s a game.” Or, when Hinault remembers telling LeMond to go slow so he can “play games” with the other riders.

Hinault is kind of portrayed as the villain of the story. I’m not sure that’s fair. Maybe in LeMond’s case he is the protagonist but Hinault argues that he played the game by the rules in place. The main rule being, there were no rules.


February 24, 2015
by James Knox

3 comments so far - add yours!

There is No Santa Claus and, Lance Cheated


When I finally gave in to the fact that Lance cheated it felt an awful lot like how it felt to find out about Santa. For years I had sneaking suspicions about the packages addressed “Santa” with the same exact smiley face that is my mother’s calling card. But, hey I was getting the G.I. Joe headquarters! Who am I to nit-pick.

We all benefitted from his success. Weather we were lifted up by his comeback from cancer or how he increased America’s lost love of bike riding and racing, we owe him. For the good and the bad. More on that in a minute.

I recently read a pair of books about two unlikely kids’ rise to fame in bike racing. “Wheelmen (Lance Armstrong, The Tour de France and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever)” by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell [2013] and bike racer Phil Gaimon’s “Pro Cycling on $10 a Day (From Fat Kid to Euro Pro)” [2014]. I didn’t mean to read them concurrently but it worked out to be a very cool comparison of two unlikely heroes’ rise to fame.


Gaimon’s book is a breezy stream of consciousness from a smart-alecky kid who loves racing clean. It’s reads like Dave Barry meets Dave Stoller from “Breaking Away” with a ton more fart jokes. It shows a varnish-free cycling. The likes the 7-Eleven Team had to suffer through to be the first American team to compete in France’s biggest bike race. The bad food, bad equipment and missed opportunities all point to the author’s love of sport over financial gain. There are no dates with supermodels, no parties at the Musee d’Orsay or calls from Bill Clinton, just the blood sweat and tears of a guy who wants to race bikes for a living. And, it is pretty damn funny.


On the other hand, “Wheelmen” reads like a Wall Street Journal article. That’s probably because the two authors’ day jobs are at the Wall Street Journal writing articles. The gripping details of the growing paranoia of Lance and his inner circle as the lie grows is palpable. Lance believes he is too big to fail. It was a little like seeing “Titanic”. I know they go down but, how? Having read Tyler Hamilton’s book and “It’s Not About the Bike” by Lance I didn’t yet know how deep the rabbit hole went.

I’ve come to a crossroads in my appreciation of his efforts. We now sit in a new era of cycling in America. We owe this surge partly to Lance’s success at dominating the Tour de France and putting an American team in an international fight that most didn’t even know existed. The idea of having an American cycling team win the Tour is like a French baseball team winning the World Series as “Wheelmen” states. There is a large group of riders that started because of this international swagger-fest. But, now all average people know about cycling is drugs and cheating.

Lance now owes us his help to fix the mess he waded into and brought to a frenzied crescendo. He got too greedy. I think he is the only one to fix it. But, I’m not sure he’s man enough to do it. The example of Jonathan Vaughters is a good place to start. Someone outside of cycling has no clue who this guy is but, he was Lance’s teammate. He doped, too. He confessed and started a team based on internal, zero-tolerance blood testing and accountability. They won the Giro d’Italia in 2012 with Ryder Hesjedal. They are claiming the era of “Big Doping” over.

Lance needs to do something of this magnitude. He can. But, will he? I sure wish he would. It would make a great ending to the story.


February 12, 2015
by James Knox

No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

The Wheel Mill



So, I spent the morning riding bikes, shooting videos and taking pictures at the Wheel Mill in Homewood. Check out if you’re curious. Owner Harry Geyer and I remarked that it’s unbelievable that we get paid to do this. (Not much but it’s a living)

The Wheel Mill is a completely indoor bike park in an 80,000 square foot warehouse in Homewood. There are more winding ramps and jumps than you can shake a frame pump at. I learned how to pump a bike and, more importantly, that there is a whole world of riding I have yet to discover. I also realized that I need a new bike, too.


February 5, 2015
by James Knox

No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Fat Bikes Rule the Snow


FAT bike 1

(photo by Rothrock Outfitters)

The weather outside sucks. I was over it when I put the Christmas lights away. If winter was a man, I would punch him in the mouth. I did get a little anxious to ride Wednesday when I left work and it was in the upper 40s. But, life gets in the way. No ride for me.

I got out of the house to ride the other day when I didn’t have to drive kids to piano, theatre, musical practice, gymnastics, church or jai alai practice. I was climbing one of my favorite long painful climbs where I am usually all alone. Not that day.

“Whoo!!” a voice behind me shouts. I turn to see a roadie gaining fast on me.

“Hey! Afternoon. I don’t usually see people on this road,” I said while at 180 beats per minute. Trying to seem calm.

“Make way for the King!” he says and, he was gone.

But, despite that weirdo, the winter can be a glorious time to ride. Fat bikes in the snow and bikes with studded tires. Sounds like a Queen song.

Fat bikes are super-wide wheeled specially built mountain bikes that can climb a car. My friend Sara Petyk with Bike the GAP (That’s the Great Allegheny Passage) and help from Rothrock Outfitters is offering fully supported 2- and 3-day fat bike trip packages are based out of Ohiopyle State Park this winter starting at $550. Go to for more info. It is the ONLY fat bike tour in the eastern US.

You can also check out their blog:


(photo by Rothrock Outfitters)


Super Wide Tires – 3.5 inches or wider (A typical mountain bike is a little over 2”)

Tire pressures of 10psi or less (Your car is 32psi. A typical road bike is around 140psi)

Enough floatation that you can travel over snow without leaving a rut deeper than one inch (ONE INCH!)

Sufficient traction that you are able to safely control your bike and ride in a straight line (That is helpful)


My guess it is like snowshoeing on a bike.

And the good news is you’d probably have the trail all to yourself.

Make way for the KING!


January 5, 2015
by James Knox

No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Enter the Pain Cave!



Time to head to the Bike Torture Chamber.


Some call it a Man Cave or the Woodshed.

No matter how nice it is, it can be a very dark place.

When it is too cold or, unsafe to effectively train out doors, smart cyclists move indoors.

Now, you can call me weak and soft. Guilty. But, I did ride Sunday outside and have ridden in weather so cold my water bottles froze. Two words: Dirty Dozen. Nothing can match the benefit and fun of riding outside whatever the forecast.

But, when I ride indoors I go to what my wife and I refer to as the “Pain Cave”.

Two bikes, two trainers and some Metallica.


To outfit your own BTC you need a few things. You’ll need a bike, a trainer (or rollers if you hate fun) and a fan. A few extras would be a TV or laptop to watch a movie or training video and a bucket (if you really mean it). I also change the soft race tire on my rear wheel with a thick and heavy red trainer-specific tire. You could shred a tire in one session on a rugged trainer.


I have a room in my basement that is off of the laundry room that is 6’X9’. I painted it a cheery green and set a cabinet with a flat screen TV, DVD and a iPod dock. I have room for mine and my wife’s bikes set up on two magnetic resistance trainers with front wheel risers for stability. I have a sweat cover over my bike so I don’t rust the little steel that’s on by bike. There are three fans blowing full speed when we are in there.


“Riding a stationary bike is sooooo boring,” you say? Well, I found one way to make it memorable.

The Sufferfest is a series of training videos with a worldwide cult like following. I have the flag of Sufferladria flying in my BTC. You can go to their website and view BTCs from everywhere from Shanghai to Afghanistan to get some ideas.

The videos push threshold training to new heights. Or, they push suffering to new lows.

They show on screen cues and feature footage from real UCI road races like the Tour de France.

Just make sure you leave enough in your legs to climb the basement stairs.


December 1, 2014
by James Knox

One comment so far - add yours!

Dirty Dozen Recap




“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”


The 31st edition of the Dirty Dozen is in the rear view mirror. I made it up all 13 of the steepest hills in the city and in the world, really (Canton Ave. has a bid for at least the steepest grade in the world). I never stopped. I never put my foot down. I made it up on my own power on the first attempt all 13 hills.

Now I can move on with the rest of my life.

They really should call this the Dirty 30 because some of the hills we used to get to the actual hill were just as bad. I made it up all of those without fail as well.

I feel pretty good. I did drop a 40-foot ladder on my foot while hanging my Christmas lights yesterday so as to forget how bad my legs hurt.

So, what did I learn? Why did I do this? This can’t be good for you??

Well, doing something like this involves a great deal of pride. The good kind as well as the bad. They feed off each other in such a situation. The shame of failing is so great it’s palatable as you pass people walking or crashing on these multiple 30% and more roads that seem to never end.

“If you stop, you fail ALL of the hills,” your pride keeps screaming.

But, you want to do it so you can say you did it. That’s the bad pride. “Look at me, I’m a Badass,” it says. Well, it’s kind of got a point. This race is a tough guy (or gal) race.

There are four things you need for this race and they are as follows: strong legs, good gearing, insane bike handling skills and supreme mental toughness. But, the mental toughness aspect is supreme.

This is a race where you can have all of the first three things on that list and still fail.

I saw plenty of that on Saturday.


My legs were strong. Steve and I trained separately and together quite hard and intense for about two to three months. We knew our legs could handle it.

My gear was pretty good. My 1980s Cannondale had a new chain on some Frankenstein-ed chain-rings. They of course stuck and required some kicking to get it into the right gear before the first few hills. I also flatted at the top of hill #2 Sharps Hill and had to make a quick change before Berry Hill. I was almost completely fixed by the time the sag wagon showed up and offered a floor pump and some lube. I buried myself pretty good to catch back on and flew up Berry Hill just in time for the group to head to the next hill.

Good legs covering inadequate gear. The road mechanic sternly admonished me for putting these goofy rings on my bike the wrong way. Sorry dad. Gosh.

As for the bike handling I feel pretty good after touching wheels several times from people behind me and not falling. There was an overabundance of salt on most hills just piled up in clumps everywhere causing spinouts and crashes. Thanks Bill Peduto for your salty vigilance. On Eleanor I had to ride through a sewer drain depression filled with salt to miss a bigger pile of salt where people were falling over.

As you made it up the final kicks of hill #13 Tesla Street with the end in sight, your mind starts playing tricks on you. “Just stop,” it says. “Shut up,” you say and battle through. That was actually every hill the whole way all day. But, making the voices stop or at least keep to themselves trumps any hill workout or S-Works Venge with disc brakes or BMX skills any day.

So, what did I learn? I learned I CAN overcome anything. And I’m proud of it.

Bring on the Zombie Apocalypse.

Other blogs
Sports: Rob Rossi | Steel Mill | Chipped Ice | Bucco Blog | iPreps | Pitt Locker Room | Penn State Sports
News: This Just In | Trib List | ICycle | Flow Back | Stories Behind Trib Stories  

» Top Sports
» Top News
» Top Breaking News