How to improve your triathlon cycling (spoiler: not by cycling)

I know that by now its October and triathlon season is definitely over. But with the competition season over, its time to start training for the next year, and I thought my learned advice might actually be of use for other triathletes or those who are considering participating in their first triathlon in the next season.

Last summer, I’ve participated in my 21th triathlon.  Its not like I won any of them, and I’ve only done the shorter versions (up to Olympic distance so far) but I had a great deal of fun participating and have gathered a bit of experience as an amateur triathlete. Over the years I have become better in using that experience rather than sheer muscle power to boost my performance. Triathlon is an endurance sport, but there are quite a few technical sides to it. Of the triathlon components, cycling is my poorest discipline, and I have therefore focused on trying to improve that. So for what they’re worth – these are my suggestions to improve your triathlon finishing time, at least, as far as the cycling part is concerned.

On of my first triathlons... more than 10 years ago

On of my first triathlons… more than 10 years ago

The biggest difference between “normal” cycling and triathlon cycling is the switch. Changing from swimming to cycling and from cycling to running requires a transition between rather different sports, with a different body position and a different set of muscles working. It takes your body (and mind) an effort and time to perform the switch.

Start switching while swimming

Let your body start the adjustment before you exit the water. In the last tens of meters of swimming, lower your legs to start adjusting to the more vertical cycling position. Slower your arm work and power up your legs. This will start redirecting the blood stream to your legs, that will have to do the work from now on.

After leaving the water

Don’t let the adrenaline rush to blind you. Run to your bike, but not too fast – you just stood up and all the blood is flowing to your legs. Besides, there are dozens of other (disoriented) athletes around you running to their bike around you, and accidents are best to avoid.

Some Parc fermé's get very crowded

Some Parc fermé’s get very crowded

Gearing up

Put the helmet on first! Practice the “gearing up” procedure at home as part of your training routine. This will make sure that on the day of the race you know what goes where and in what sequence, so that you can put your stuff on and cycle away “on auto pilot”. Come well in advance and rehearse the procedure a few times at the race location and make sure you know where the exit of the Parc fermé is (you’ll be surprised how many people lose time looking for the exit).

Its not about your gear, its about how you use it... a fixie can be a triathlon bike too

Its not about your gear, its about how you use it… a fixie can be a triathlon bike, too

Mounting your bike

Only AFTER leaving the Parc fermé! Here, there are basically two options – putting the shoes on first, or clicking them into the pedals and putting your feet in while cycling. Which you use depends on personal preference and the type of shoes you wear, but again, this you can test at home to get used to the technique.

On your bicycle

Start on an easy gear and give your body a few minutes to adjust to the position and pace. This is something you can train as well – go to a park and lay down flat next to your bicycle for a minute. Do a few push-ups to get your heart rate up, then start off. Time how long it takes you to cycle at your regular tempo.

Switching to run

Just like the switch to cycling – start preparing in the last minutes by standing up a few times to get used to the upright running position. To shave off a few more seconds, you can pull your feet out of the cycling shoes before dismounting. And, again, start off easily, as cramps are not uncommon at this stage.

And, of course, most important is to remember to enjoy the race! Hope my suggestions help you improve your next (or first) triathlon and I would appreciate any feedback and other suggestions.

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Filed under cycling, Tips and tricks

Keeping the Dutch cyclists rolling

Cycling is immensely popular in the Netherlands. The Dutch cycling infrastructure is world-famous, and rightly so. But the popularity of cycling puts the existing infrastructure under pressure to keep up. My latest article for the Bike Citizens Magazine discusses the challenges posed by the tremendous popularity of cycling. Read more about it here:

The brand new train station in Delft came with an underground parking garage for 5000 bicycles. Just a few of months after the opening, the garage is already overflowing. The lack of parking places leads to frustrations and unsafe situations.

The brand new train station in Delft came with an underground parking garage for 5000 bicycles. Just a few of months after the opening, the garage is already overflowing. The lack of parking places leads to frustrations and unsafe situations.

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Alsace and Schwarzwald – a photo essay

Alsace has been described as “where France crashes into Central Europe”. I don’t know about Central Europe, but it is definitely where France and Germany collide, albeit today the collision is much more peaceful than it was in the past. I just came back from a two-week vacation spent in Alsace and its German counterpart – Schwarzwald. Since I am a bit short on time to write about the trip, and since I have some great photos, I will just show you where I’ve been.

Classic Alsatian views in Colmar

Classic Alsatian views in Colmar

Toy museum in Colmar is fantastic

Toy museum in Colmar is fantastic

Dozens of trains in the Colmar toy museum

Dozens of trains in the Colmar toy museum

Colmar itself is not bad at all

Colmar itself is not bad at all

OK, the weather in Colmar helped a lot, too

OK, the weather in Colmar helped a lot, too

Hiking with children in France...

Hiking with children in France…

...and in Germany

…and in Germany

The vineyards in Freiburg are right in the city

The vineyards in Freiburg are right in the city

Sweet grapes of Alsace are ripe for the picking

Sweet grapes of Alsace are ripe for the picking

Smelly Munster cheese goes great with Gewurztraminer

Smelly Munster cheese goes great with Gewurztraminer

A Schwarzwald kindergarten

A Schwarzwald kindergarten

A young farmgirl :-)

A young farmgirl :-)

Freiburg market from the catherdral tower

Freiburg market from the catherdral tower

Alsace and Schwarzwald 6

Radhaus square in Freiburg

Unmistakably Gothic  Freiburger Münster cathedral

Unmistakably Gothic Freiburger Münster cathedral


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Filed under Europe, Travel

How to choose a (small European) country

As the term of my contract at the university is drawing to a close, I begin to ponder on the next move. It is by now obvious we need another place to live. Our small European apartment has been a perfect place for the two of us, and we’ve managed very well to make it suitable for a baby, but with two children rapidly growing up it is becoming rather crowded here. We have few wishes – I dream of a kitchen with room for a dishwasher and the wife has always wanted a garden, even if a handkerchief sized one. The chances of finding an affordable place with a garden in a decent neighbourhood in Rotterdam with our current income are… well, not high. Besides, its not that I don’t like Rotterdam, on the contrary, but the air quality here is the worse in all of Western Europe.

Rotterdam is a pretty cool place to live

Rotterdam is a pretty cool place to live

Leaving Rotterdam – but where to?

Since in order to improve our living quarters we would have to find a new town,  I thought “why not tackle bigger issues, while we’re at it?”. There are many plus sides to living in the Netherlands (more about it in one of the next posts), but I would really like to live in a place where you don’t need to look at the calendar to know which season it is. But where to go? And how to decide? I sat down to compile a set of criteria my (our) new home would have to meet. The goal is to apply “Parkinson’s law for hiring”, and to reduce the number of possible places to move to. When applied right, in the end, the choice will be very, very simple.

Van Nelle factory - a Rotterdam architecture icon that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List

Van Nelle factory – a Rotterdam architecture icon that is on the UNESCO World Heritage List

A properly run country

First of all, I want to live in a properly run country. You may ask “How do you know whether it is run properly?”. And I will tell you it is very easy to tell whether a country is run properly. Simple question – is it safe to drink tap water there? I think it is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. Turns out, it already rules out huge chunks of the world. All of Africa, all of South and Central America and most of Asia don’t have drinkable tap water. What’s left is Western, Northern and a bit of Central Europe, supplemented with the Anglo-Saxon division (USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and the outliers of Asia that only prove how much they do not belong there (South Korea, Japan, Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong and Brunei).

With a pleasant climate

Having thus excluded most of the world, I went on to think about what makes a place pleasant to live in. I mentioned the climate, but how to define what makes a pleasant climate? And I am proud to say I found a way to do it – wine! I will quote this passage from in full, because it illustrates my point so well (emphasis added):

“Are there ideal weather conditions for growing winegrapes? Although no two vintages in any region are exactly alike, growers everywhere would be ecstatic with adequate precipitation and warmth to grow the vine and ripen the fruit, with no weather extremes (like frost, hail and heat waves) and disease. During the dormant period, this would equate to enough soil-replenishing rainfall and a cool to cold winter, without vine-killing low temperatures but with enough chilling to ensure bud fruitfulness the following year. The spring would be free from wide temperature swings and frost, and have enough precipitation to feed vegetative growth. During flowering, the weather would be cloud-free with moderately high temperatures and high photosynthetic potential to allow the flowers to fully set into fruit. The summer growth stage would be dry, with heat accumulation to meet the needs of the variety and few heat stress events. The ripening period would be dry with a slow truncation of the season toward fall, with moderately high daytime temperatures and progressively cooler nights.”

In other words, a wine-growing area has a properly cold winter, but not a bitterly cold one, a pleasant, sunny spring without the wild mood swings the Dutch springs are so famous for and a dry, warm summer, that gently slides off into a cooler, but still dry autumn. Look at this picture below and you will see that wine-growing areas are primarily in places like Southern France, California, and Southern Australia. Coupled with the clean tap water requirement it already leaves us with preciously little places to choose from. For the ease of further comparison I will exclude exotic wine-growing areas like Sweden or Canada – I am sure you understand that is not what I mean by “a pleasant climate”.

World Wine Areas, image by Denkhenk

Where I speak the language

Next, I decided I want to live somewhere I either already speak the language or where I can learn a language that is widely used. This leaves out destinations like South Korea and Slovenia. Not that I am not open for attractive business opportunities from Japan or Poland, but I am trying to find ways to cut down my list here.  I already speak Dutch, English, Hebrew, Russian and a bit of German and Spanish. French is a language that would be extremely useful to learn as there are so many French-speakers in the world, and Italian gets a wild-card for ease of learning (from hearsay) and its usefulness in enabling you to at least understand French and Spanish (again, hearsay). This trims down the list to France, Spain, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, USA, Israel and the German-speaking countries.

In Europe

The choices become more difficult, as all the above are rather attractive places to live in. But one has to make choices. The USA is out for preferring guns over nipples. While Australia and New Zealand are really fun, living there would take me rather far from my friends and family, almost all of whom live in Europe. Again, given the right incentive, I will sail for Australia and never look back, but I would prefer staying closer to the ones I love. I’ve already lived in Israel and its just too warm there for me. What’s left are “just” France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Austria to choose from.

Close to mountains

If there’s something I love its mountains. Hiking, climbing, canyoning – even just watching mountains makes me happy. Maybe its the years spent in the flatness of the Netherlands that make me want to live within easy reach of a serious mountain chain. And I don’t mean something like the Massif Central or the Ardennes – I mean mountains with glaciers and all. That narrows the options down a bit further – of the mountain chains in the countries that made the short list, only the Pyrenees and the Alps have glaciers. The Pyrenees glaciers are quite small, and since I’m in the business of making choices here, I’ll leave the Pyrenees out for the moment. Its just the Alps then.

Swiss mountain lakes...

Swiss mountain lakes…

And not too far from the family

Coming to think of it, since we’re pretty settled on staying in Europe, it would be nice to live somewhere reasonably close to the family in the Netherlands. That way, we could drive down to visit grandma and grandpa for the holidays, the cousins can come over to us for a long weekend. So not moving away too far – but how far is not too far? My experience is that driving 800 kilometers is about the maximum for a single day without breaking yourself. And there’s a great tool to help with that, called “How far can I travel?“. I’ve filled in “800 kilometers from Rotterdam”, and the nearest place with mountains hits the spot – its Switzerland. Incidentally, its also the country with the highest salaries and the lowest taxes. Cows, mountains and cheese, here we come! The tough part of having to decide where to go has thus being taken care of, all I got to do now is finish my PhD and find a job. Piece of cake.

Matterhorn - a super strong argument for Switzerland

Matterhorn – a super strong argument for Switzerland


Filed under Europe, Work

Papa, Do You Have a Bike Helmet, Too?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I now write for the Bike Citizens Magazine. My first article has been published, here’s a little intro – click on the link below to read the full version.

“Papa, do you have a helmet, too?” my two-year old daughter asked. For a brief moment I did not know what to say. Because while she wears a bike helmet every time I take her on the bike, I am not wearing one myself, not when I’m bringing her to the day-care nor on my commute to work. As parents often do, I rescued myself by telling a half-truth – that I wear a helmet when riding my race bike.

In fact, by not wearing a helmet, I am making a wise, rational, scientifically supported decision. Wonder why? Read my article about it in the Bike Citizens Magazine!

The helmet goes with the rest of the racing gear

The helmet goes with the rest of the racing gear


Filed under cycling, Work

Amsterdam is a cycling hell

As of recently, I have a new side-gig – I am writing for Bike Citizens Magazine. Bike Citizens develops its own cycling-related products and offers a platform to the community of urban cyclists. To celebrate this latest development in my writing career, I wrote the following summary of why Amsterdam is a cycling hell.

Amsterdam has a reputation of a cycling paradise. In the 12 years I live in the Netherlands, I’ve been to Amsterdam countless times. Yet I have never been tempted to cycle in the Dutch capital. Because Amsterdam is not a cycling paradise – its a cycling hell. Let me tell you why.


Yes, cyclists in Amsterdam can be a part of the problem, too. Its just that the amount of cyclists in the city is absolutely staggering – over a million of them! They blatantly disobey traffic laws and park their bikes on every possible (and impossible) spot, contributing to the traffic mayhem. In Amsterdam, cyclists actually make it worse for themselves.

Bicycle parked - check! But where are the pedestrians are supposed to walk?

Bicycle parked – check! But where are the pedestrians supposed to walk?


The cobbled streets look nice on pictures. But cobble stones are the reason why the Paris–Roubaix race is famous and feared. Cobbles are a bicycle-killer. Amsterdam is full of stone pavements, and they are not fun at all to cycle on.

Cobbles look good on picture, but are a nightmare to cycle on

Cobbles look good on picture, but are a nightmare to cycle on


There are tens of thousands of scooters in Amsterdam. Theoretically, they are allowed to use bicycle paths if the scooter is restricted to 25 kph. In practice, the speed restriction is easily removed and enforcement is lacking. The result is that scooters that are 2-3 times heavier than the cyclists, are also 2-3 times faster. Since the formula for kinetic energy, as you undoubtedly remember, is E=1/2 mv^2, scooters have about 10 to 30 times more kinetic energy than cyclists! Consequences of even minor collisions can be devastating.

Taxi drivers

Taxi drivers are a plague for cyclists everywhere, in busy capital cities most of all places. The ones in Amsterdam are (understandably) especially frustrated by the million bicycles constantly cutting them off in the narrow streets. Taxis and cyclists are engaged in a decades-long struggle for control of the streets of Amsterdam. Trust me, you really don’t want to get into that fight – it is a fight that has only losers.


If you see these - run for your life (these ones are cycling against the traffic, too)

If you see these – run for your life (these ones are cycling against the traffic, too)

First of all, tourists are the worse cyclists. When you see a bunch of them coming at you on those rented bikes – run and hide! For some reason, they think cycling drunk and/or stoned along the deep canals in the chaos of Amsterdam is a safe and enjoyable activity. Pedestrian tourists, who are not used to the amount of bicycles are a menace, too. And I don’t need to explain you why in all likelihood a Darwin award will soon be issued for the use a selfie-stick while riding your bike.

Even the famous canals are not safe from cycling tourists

Even the famous canals are not safe from cycling tourists


Don’t get me wrong, I love trams. But for cyclists in Amsterdam, trams are a nightmare. They are fast and furious, and are relatively quiet – in the busy city traffic, you don’t hear a tram coming until the last moment. Trams use a big chunk of road space, pushing cars into the bicycle lanes. Most unfortunately, tram tracks are a death trap for a bicycle – not only are they slippery when wet (and its often wet in Amsterdam), they are of exactly the right size to catch you by the wheel when you least expect it.

Amsterdam traffic mayhem in a nutshell - cars, trams, cyclists and pedestrians all move at once

Amsterdam traffic mayhem in a nutshell – cars, trams, cyclists, scooters and pedestrians all at one picture

The good part

Let me finish on a bright note – its not like ALL of Amsterdam is a cycling hell. There is some truth in the city’s reputation as a great place for cycling. Its just the downtown that is a horrible place to pedal. On the whole, Amsterdam is over 200 square kilometres. Of these, only the city centre, just 10 square kilometres, is filled with taxis, trams and tourists. Outside that small area, cycling in Amsterdam is every bit as fun as you can imagine.



Filed under cycling, Small European things

The repulsive face of modern European antisemitism


Ever seen them BDS’ing a Chinese supermarket? Me neither.

Last weekend, when visiting the local supermarket, I had an unpleasant encounter with the repulsive face of modern European antisemitism. As I was doing my regular groceries, I noticed several people in identical white jackets rummaging through the shelves. I guessed it was some kind of internal quality control and haven’t given it much thought. But as I left the store, I realized it was an external control – these people were searching the shelves for Israeli products. And they were calling on the shoppers to boycott these products. I don’t need to tell you how disgusting the similarity is between these people and other times in the European history of the 20th century.

Spot the differences…

These people of course have the right to demonstrate. I have no problem with them criticizing Israel. They are entitled to their opinion. But don’t let them tell you they are against “occupation”, don’t let them tell you they are “anti-zionist”, not antisemitic, don’t let them tell you they are concerned about the suffering of “Palestinians”. Because it is all bullshit.

They say they are against occupation – that’s bullshit.
The only occupation they are concerned with is the Israeli “occupation”. Never mind the Oslo agreements, never mind Israeli disengagement from Gaza – let us even assume Israel is in full control there. What about the other occupations? The nearby market is full of Moroccan goods – I don’t see them searching there for products from the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. When have they checked the Turkish stores for products from Northern Cyprus – occupied by Turkey? Have they ever inspected the Chinese supermarkets for products of Chinese-occupied Tibet or the Russian stores for products made in Russian-occupied Crimea? Never. Only the “occupation” by the Jewish state gets their attention.

They say they support oppressed people in the Middle East – that’s bullshit.
I haven’t heard them protest the oppression of the Kurds of Iraq or Turkey. They were silent when Yezidi’s were being massacred by the Islamic State. The suffering of Shiites in Pakistan, the Christians in Syria and Egypt, the miserable life of gays everywhere in the Middle East (outside of Israel, where gay pride parades are a regular event) are never their concern. Ruthless bombardments of civilians in Yemen by Saudi warplanes haven’t led to a single sound of protest. All their attention is gobbled up by Israel – in their mind, only the Jewish state can be an oppressor.

Saudi bombardments of Yemen? Its Arabs killing Arabs, that's OK.

Saudi bombardments of Yemen? Its Arabs killing Arabs, that’s OK.

They say they are concerned about the rights of the “Palestinians” – that’s bullshit.
And if you wonder why I put “Palestinians” between brackets – look up who is Zuheir Mohsen.
I have never seen them demonstrating for the rights of “Palestinians” in Lebanon, where they are officially excluded from dozens of professions – “Palestinians” can’t be a doctor or a lawyer in Lebanon. Never have these people said a word about “Palestinians” in Syria, where a fourth stateless generation is born, inheriting a refugee status, for decades crammed by the regime into miserable camps on the fringes of society. I haven’t heard them protesting the abuse of the rights of the residents of Gaza by the brutal regime of Hamas or raise their voice against the corruption of the thugs governing the “Palestinian Autonomy”. Only when Jews are perceived to abuse the rights of “Palestinians” are these people heard.

They say they are not antisemitic, “just” anti-Zionist. That’s bullshit.
Last time I checked, Zionism was the aspiration of the Jewish people for self-determination. They are not aganst the right of Swedes, Iraqis, Albanians or even “Palestinians” for self-determination. It is only the Jewish people that are denied that right – and denying Jews a right that other people have is the definition of antisemitism.

Checking Moroccan products next week? I don't think so.

Checking Moroccan products next week? I don’t think so.

So what is their motive?
Why do these people demonize and abuse the Jewish state? Why single out Israel for a “special treatment”? Even if Israel does violate human rights, even if Israel is an occupying power, why don’t these people protest other occupying forces, why not demonstrate against any other, much graver violators of human rights? Well, because boycotting Jewish goods is safe and fun. It is a cheap thrill, it gives them the feeling they are doing the “right thing” with little chances of getting hurt in the process. I totally understand them. Getting away unharmed from an inspection of Moroccan goods at the market will be tricky. Try rummaging through the shelves of a Russian store and you might end up with a broken nose. Attempt a boycott of a Chinese supermarket and you’ll end up facing an angry mob. Calling for a boycott of Israel, on the other hand, is free of dangers, and it gives the guilty pleasure of doing something you know is wrong. Its like picking your nose – you know you are not supposed to do it, and its not polite, but when you can get away with it – you do it.

When photographed, they try to hide their faces. Its like they're caught nose-picking - deep down they know its wrong.

When photographed, they try to hide their faces. Its like they’re caught nose-picking – deep down they know its wrong.

Its the same reason “anarchist” or “left-wing” so-called activists travel to Israel – to have a taste of the action. Why not? You can shout at soldiers in the morning, have a swim in the Med in the day and end up discussing how great you are over a beer in a local pub in the evening. Best thing is – there are little risks involved. Worse thing that can happen to you is a bit of tear gas, or you’ll get delayed at the airport for a few hours. But oh the stories you’ll tell. Compare it to the risk of rotting away in a Chinese prison for supporting the Tibetans or disappearing all together in a shallow grave in the desert for standing by the Sahrawi’s in Morocco, and the choice for Israel-bashing is an easy one. The modern Jew-haters, just like the old ones, are cowards, liars and racists. They just don’t always shave their heads.


Filed under Europe