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VQ & You:Mike Bailey

Who I Am

Two of the bikes have power meters that I have been using over the past two seasons. And I love riding. But I don’t race--never have and never will. I’m 58 years old, and when I ride with groups (once a week, mainly in the summer), I’m always the oldest, sometimes exceeding the average by two to three decades. When I started this a couple years ago, I had to accept that the group I chose was fast and I’d get dropped sometimes--so would other, much younger, guys. Last season, I stopped riding with them because getting dropped more often than not isn’t fun. I concluded that, well, I’m getting old. I’m strong for my age, but age happens.

Why I Joined Vision Quest this January

First, New Orleans. Every December, we go to New Orleans for a “food-cation”. (New Orleans food is the best, but it’s not low-cal.) Then we come back and my partner goes into holiday cooking mode. Because she’s a fantastic chef and because we finish teaching in early December (both Northwestern professors), we indulge in food and drink. So, I gain a few pounds…well, perhaps more than a few. Second, Chicago winter. There comes a time when you just can’t ride on the roads outside around here and this year that came in late December. I rode on Christmas Day, but then the weather got bad and I couldn’t ride outside for a couple weeks. (The previous two winters were much more brutal for outside riding.) I don’t have room in our condo for a trainer. When I can’t ride outside, I still ride at my gym on a recumbent exercise bike, but it’s not the same. For one thing, my butt gets soft; for another, it’s excruciatingly boring and unpleasant. Third, Chicago spring. Every spring, when I can cycle outside again, I’m happy to be doing so, but sad that it’s such a chore to get back in shape. I gain weight over the winter. I have to break in my butt again. And I suffer psychologically over how weak I become. The Decision. My partner and I decided to go low carb and no alcohol in January (actually until Valentine’s Day). I had been intrigued by Vision Quest since I first heard about it. I was tempted, but never enough. Now I figured it would help me lose weight and perhaps prevent my yearly weakening.

My Vision Quest Experience

I met Katie Brickman at the Highland Park location to ask her about VQ. I also took a practice ride indoors using my bike on a CompuTrainer. I liked it­ much better than the gym and decided to join, at least for a month or two. My first real session was meeting with Robbie Ventura, the Head of Vision Quest (and serious former pro cyclist), for a cycling fitness evaluation. I’d always been curious about my VO2 max and he assessed that. I liked that he saw strengths--he was surprised (given my current gut) about my fitness, as well as my weaknesses (did I mention the gut?). Then came the real VQ experience: classes. My first VQ session was Friday, January 8. Subsequently, I would trek up to Highland Park from Evanston for four cycling classes a week. (I strongly recommend listening to audiobooks for long commutes.) I did this for the first six to eight weeks or so of my membership. As an academic, I have a fairly flexible schedule and prefer mid-morning workouts. But there are also earlier morning workouts (starting at 5:30) that are more crowded. The classes were typically a little less than 90 minutes (less than my typical road ride). Although I always worked hard in them, they were not excruciating. I have heard of people in training who push themselves to the point of nausea, that’s not happening here. I didn’t see extreme suffering, but I did see a lot of effort and commitment (oh, okay, and some moderate suffering). The classes were so much more engaging in a group with knowledgeable, motivating instructors compared with riding the exercise bike in my gym. The temperature control (including fans) was perfect. And the VQ staff members were knowledgeable, motivating and fun. I had the most contact with Janet Katz, who is a funny, supportive badass. I also was assigned a mentor, Tim Zoph, to answer any questions I had. I never felt uncertain about anything there for long. And the training was not just what I’d have done at my gym. I learned immediately that there were things I’d never think of doing while training on my own. But would they work? Keep reading.


On March 27, I went for my first group ride of the season. I did not get dropped. Indeed, the person who knew me the best said I looked unusually strong. And one of the younger guys got annoyed because he thought I was pulling too fast. (I really wasn’t trying to show off. I just didn’t want to be slow!) I told them that I’d been training with VQ, and was in mid-season form. But this wasn’t completely honest. The fact is, I’ve never ridden as strong as I’m riding now. Remember, I have a power meter, so I know what’s what. For example, one kind of interval I do is 5 minutes hard followed by 3 minutes rest, repeating for 6-10 total. In my top shape prior to this spring, I would expect to average about 300 watts for my first two, and then I’d be lucky to get into the high 200s for the remainder. (And remember, I wouldn’t reach top form until summer.) But one week (March 29), my first interval averaged 360 watts, and my next two were over 300 watts. Four others were above 280. This is much stronger than I’ve ridden in past years, at least since I’ve ridden with a power meter. Another kind of interval I’m doing now requires me to go all out for various short bursts. In the past I’d sometimes spike at 900 watts, more or less. Now I’m routinely spiking at 950 or over, in every hard sprint. I’m hoping to get to 1,000. Just because. Oh, and I lost nearly 15 pounds of fat in 5 weeks. Of course, this is partly due to the low carb diet. But it’s also due to the exercise. And the fact that I have gotten stronger not weaker on the bike is entirely due to VQ.

Other VQ Benefits

I did not know when I joined that VQ partners with Illinois Bone and Joint (which is in the same building), such that IBJI experts lead classes three times a week that focus on core, balance and strength. Even before VQ, I hit the gym for weights and I’m strong, but I suspected I wasn’t doing what was best with respects to core and balance. The IBJI experts are perfect, challenging us enough so that we get stressful, but not too stressful, workouts. I worried about getting hurt, but they show us how to do all the exercises correctly, and they also tell us what not to do. I found these classes so useful I came to them 3 times a week until recently, when I’ve cut to 2. Getting older it’s more and more important to know how to move, maintain strength, and balance. Another VQ partner is the Highland Park Trek Bicycle Store, which is also in the same complex. VQ members get a 10% discount on parts and bikes (!) there. I’m not saying I am going to get one of the several Trek bikes I’d enjoy (like the Boone cyclocross bike), but I’m also not saying I won’t (or haven’t).

Invest in VQ? I’m not rich. I’m a college professor. VQ isn’t free. But like I’ve implied, I’ve spent plenty of money on cycling through the years, from bikes to clothes. Not to mention all that time I’ve spent on my bikes. The kinds of things we spend lots of money on–deep rims, light bikes, groupsets–are either going to have no effect on our performance (groupsets) or will have a very small effect on our time (deep rims). My training at VQ has led to at least a 10% increase in power compared with my fittest power of past seasons. What would we cyclists pay for something that increased our power by 10%? I’d have paid so much more than my VQ membership has cost me--well, I’d better not say how much in case certain people are reading. (Hi, sweetheart!) Participating in the VQ experience has been a fitness decision up there in benefit with starting road cycling and doing intervals. It’s been much more important in fitness benefit than upgrading my bikes has been. In fact, one of the most satisfying effects of my VQ experience is that I now feel that I’m worthy of my bikes. *I am not employed by VQ, do not know anyone there outside of my experience as a member and am writing this only out of the desire to express my appreciation and savor what I’ve accomplished with VQ’s help.