Bringing Home the Gold

For two weeks in February every four years, we are awed by amazing feats of strength & spectacular displays of the human form. This is one such February.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the 2014 Olympics. (As cycling fans, we’re not immune to controversy in sport.) The controversy, however, cannot detract from the fact that the Olympic athletes have trained hard to get to their starting lines and that they are, indeed, the best in their sport.

While the Winter Olympics don’t include cycling, we couldn’t help but notice that some sports there offer great opportunities for cyclists looking to cross-train or for those looking to take a break from cycling during the winter months. With that in mind, we thought we’d take this opportunity to get to know three of our customers who are intimately familiar with sports of the Winter Olympics.


Larry Berlin – Between a Rock and an Icy Place

Larry Berlin is a familiar face at Higher Gear. He’s a regular on Saturday morning group rides and he’s a top fundraiser for the annual Wrigley Field Road Tour, riding in three of the annual event’s four years.

Larry is also a regular at Chicago Curling Club, in Northbrook, IL. Despite growing up near the club, Larry didn’t become involved with curling until he lived in New York. When Larry learned his boss was involved with the sport, he quickly realized (Larry’s a smart guy), his boss couldn’t make him work while they were curling. So, if nothing else, curling would give him Sunday afternoons off.

Larry Berlin Chicago Curling Club NorthbrookLarry curled once or twice a week while living in New York. When he moved back to Chicago, he saw that his old friends were busy with their new lives and so Larry decided to join the curling club in Northbrook.

Curling is a game that doesn’t get much exposure in the U.S. In fact, many of us born here can be ignorantly blind to its existence. Even upon learning about curling, many here find it – and its inclusion in the Olympics – as a source of mockery.

It’s true that curling may be intimately tied to drinking. Larry tells us that it’s customary for the winning team to buy the losing team drinks and that the losing team then returns the favor. “And we do take that tradition seriously.” Larry attributes this to the sport’s origins: “Any sport where there’s a central base in Scotland, you can guess that drinking is part of it. And a good part of it.” That said, he claims that the drinks these days are often sodas. “But there still is the occasional scotch.”

There’s an athleticism involved with the sport. Larry calculated that, aside from the skip, players get in a mile worth of running per game, broken up into 20 second spurts and then about another mile worth of walking. Those 20 second turns are spent sweeping vigorously, which certainly raises the heart rate.

“There’s definitely a positive cardiovascular effect, although, if you’re otherwise in shape, I wouldn’t recommend curling as an off-season training tool. Rather, it’s an off-season fun tool!”

Larry Berlin WFRT Wrigley Field Road TourWhile Larry doesn’t recommend curling as an off-season training tool, he surely sees the positive effect cycling has on his curling, making those 20 second runs sweeping more manageable. And Larry sees curling as a long-term sport. “I was curling before I was cycling and I suspect that I’ll be curling long after I’m cycling. When I’m seventy, that running of a mile, that cardiovascular, matters.”

According to Larry, the benefits of curling include that it offers moderate exercise and that it makes the winter go by fast. (Something we need desperately this winter!) “It’s fun. It makes winters go really fast. And it’s tons of fun.” He says, ultimately:

“The real reason to curl is that the people are really fun. In that sense, it’s like biking. Saturday mornings, when I take off with the Higher Gear group, I see my friends. I love that. I get that Thursday evenings at the curling club, too. That’s the real similarity between the two sports: the people are just great.”



Danny Grant – Ice, Ice Baby

Danny Grant found speed skating as a young teen the same way a lot of boys that age find themselves in new situations. “I was looking to meet girls.” Growing up, all his friends played hockey. While Danny was never into playing hockey, “It was a big social activity – to go to the skating rink. There, we’d meet girls in the team room.”

He remembers the day he was at the skating rink in Skokie and saw a guy “in some crazy skates.” A young Danny approached the guy to find out what the skates with the long blades were all about. That’s where he learned about speed skating and discovered that they had a team right there. And, right way, “I was hooked.”

Danny returned to the sport about a decade ago. In that time, he’s raced both short- and long-track and has raced at both the National Championship and World Championship level. “Skating at the Masters World Championship was a humbling experience, skating against the Dutch and Germans. It was fun just to be there.”

His experience at Nationals was less humbling. “The second year I skated, I was in my best shape. I was able to skate at a national level and know that I belonged there.” Danny adds, “When you’re in top skating shape, there’s nothing like it.”

Evanston Speed Skating Club ESSC Danny GrantSpeed Skating offers amazing cross-training benefits for cycling. It’s no coincidence that there have been more than one Olympic medalist who has competed in both sports and athletes who have won championships in both sports.

Check out the title of this recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Sochi 2014: The Dutch Key to Cycling is Getting on the Bike. This article ran after the Dutch won seven out of nine possible medals, including three gold, in three long-track events. The Dutch are known for their cycling as a way of life. This article suggests that part of their success at the Olympics is attributed to this year-round element of their training. Danny adds:

“Cycling is a cross-training tool for almost every national skating team.  It’s very common at races for skaters to cycle while they’re there. You’ll see them cycling before a race to warm up and after a race to flush out the lactic acid. Most people who skate also cycle.”

The Dutch speed skating team’s success speaks for itself as for proof that cycling can benefit speed skating. It works both ways. Danny tells us, “It definitely helps. You work some of the same muscle groups and taxes the body in similar aerobic and anaerobic ways. There are a lot of good cross-benefits between the two.” That said, “Cycling helps with skating more than skating helps cycling.”

One of the differences between the two sports, according to Danny, is that skating is all technique based. “You can be strong, but it’s very much about physics – the angles of your body, the contact of your skate on the ice …”

And while each sport has an anaerobic part, Danny points out that, with skating, “your body is flushed with lactic acid the whole race.” The point of training, in fact, “is all about teaching your body to process lactic acid.” Danny insists, “Skating is one of the more painful sports you can do. It puts incredible anaerobic taxes on your system.” He adds, “In cycling, you can get the same tax on your system when you’re taking pulls. Or doing intervals.”

100 Miles to Go Ride - Danny Grant Josh Kline 2010Danny points out: “Cycling is a more natural sport. People grow up with it. Skating is so unnatural. Imagine doing a 1-legged squat on something that’s 1mm thick, while balancing on a slippery surface. You have your legs at an unnatural angle, your shoulders at an unnatural angle.”

Speaking of unnatural, Danny adds: “It’s also not natural – at least for a guy – to go out in head-to-toe spandex. It takes a special kind of guy to do that. It’s very unnatural.” In that way, skating and cycling are similar. What Danny says of speed skating can also be said of cycling, “It’s such a niche sport, such a geeky sport.”

And another similarity between the two sports, “Skating, like cycling, is a great sport for camaraderie. Everybody helps everybody out. That’s what’s special about a niche sport: they’re all in the same geeky thing that you’re in.”




Chad Giese – A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock-and-Roll

Growing up in snowy Minnesota, Chad Giese has been skiing his whole life. His cycling career got a later start, when he began using it as a cross-training tool for his skiing. In college, he raced for cycling teams and has done a few races since – most recently at the Chicago Cyclocross Cup with the Gearhead’s Cyclocross team. (Of his two CCC races, Chad declares, “I had a blast!”)

It’s as a skier that Chad has made a name for himself. In addition to being an NCAA All-American and a World Cup skier, Chad is a 2007 National Champion in the national sprint relay. And he’s a six-time Mora Vasaloppet 58K Champion. said of him: “Death, taxes, and Chad Giese in the Mora Vasaloppet. Those are really the only certainties in life,” when he won his 6th straight Vasaloppet in Mora, Minnesota while racing for the Subaru Factory Team. He’s raced classic and skate skiing (both types of cross-country skiing), sprints and marathons, from 1.5k to upwards of 50k. Chad explains, “In skiing, you pretty much have to do everything.”

About cross-country skiing, Chad says:

“It’s different than running, but similar to biking in the sense that we train ourselves as skiers to tolerate huge amounts of lactic acid and then flush that lactic acid on that little downhill break that you have. In that way, it’s similar to cycling. You can put yourself down under. Then you reach the top of the hill and your body can flush that lactic acid in that quick break.”


He adds:

“Cross-country skiing is definitely a cross-training tool for cyclists. It’s low impact. It works upper and lower body strength and efficiency. It’s a great aerobic activity that keeps your lungs working in wintertime.

You don’t get cycling specific time in the saddle and the power that you can get in on a bike or even in a trainer, but it makes for a good break in the wintertime. You build efficiency, increase lung capacity and stay fit.”


Chad Giese skier cross country skate skiing classicChad highlights the professional cyclists who cross-trained with skiing. “When I was ski racing, I was based out of St Paul. Traveled all over the US to train. Greg LeMond did a lot of skiing in the wintertime. He was an avid skier.”

A little research reveals that LeMond actually came into cycling, thanks to freestyle skiing pioneer Wayne Wong, who recommended the bike as an ideal off-season training aid. When he got more in to cycling, LeMond said, “I was doing cross-country skiing and easy riding in the winter and I’m starting to go in the opposite way now, working on my power, lifting weights with my legs, working on increasing my oxygen consumption…”

Chad also cites Carl Swenson, a competitor in both cross-country skiing and mountain biking. He’s a three-time Olympic team member, and twice a captain of the Olympic ski team , as well as a National Champion mountain biker, a two-time 24-hour Single Speed World Champion. He represented the U.S. in five World Championships and won a silver medal in the 1999 Pan American Games.

According to Chad, “Swenson would race the mountain bike circuit spring and summer. In fall, he would race the skiing World Cup circuit. He would go from the last ski race of the year to the Redlands classic [a mountain bike race the first weekend of April]. His lungs were primed and ready to go, though his legs may have been a little tired.”


Friends of Chad, who he describes as “more bikers than skiers,” told him he should give cyclocross a try. So, last fall, he kitted up with the Higher Gear Cyclocross Team. “It is the most intense 45 minutes. It’s intense effort. I hope to do more next year. I think it’s a real blast.”

Whether you’re a cyclist looking to cross-train or just one of the many of us stuck in a Midwestern winter, Chad recommends cross-country skiing as an ideal way to take advantage of the winter. “You have to find a way to enjoy winter. It gets long if you just stay inside.”


Chad Giese Higher Gear Cyclocross Rhythym Blues Revue Wilmette Evanston community golf course


Chad is committed to creating a solidified ski community here in the North Shore over the course of this year. Click here to check out the Facebook page he created. In the meantime, there’s still lots of snow this year to get out there and try cross-country skiing. And if you’ve had enough of snow, get your speed fix with the Evanston Speed Skating Club or the Northbrook Speed Skating Club or join the Chicago Curling Club for a round!


And, of course, if you already have your winter sport covered, head into Higher Gear, where we can get you set up with all your cycling needs for cross-training.


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