I rode with some my wife and a couple of friends Memorial Day morning. We chose a route that’s normally exceptionally busy with traffic, but we hit a perfect storm of quiet this weekend. First, with COVIDcation and stay at home, that knocked down the traffic substantially. Second, the “up north” of the lower peninsula was opened up late last week so people flocked up to escape. Traffic wasn’t non-existent, but it was as light as I’ve ever seen for that route – and it’s a fun route.
We had a chance of rain in the morning, but it was one of those, “Okay, it’s going to be 90° (32 C), I hope it rains a little” days. We rolled out at 8 am with sunshine and a light headwind. It was 70 (21 C) and spectacular. We started out on the slow side but picked up the pace as we went, up and over rollers, never too easy but I wasn’t ever in a position where I questioned my own sanity, either. It was just a fun, nice ride. Chuck, the guy up front in the photo below, took the first seven miles up front and I took the next seven and when I dropped back, Chuck was next in line to take another pull… so I said to my normal riding buddy, Chuck, “There’s no free lunch today, buddy”. Five miles later he took the cue and took us to the buffet at the Golden Coral. I don’t know how long he was up front, but it was loooooooooooonnnnnnnngggg.
22 miles in, the ride gets fun. We were greeted with a sign that warns of a steep 8% descent. The second I crested I decided to see how fast I could pedal down the hill. I hammered through every gear I had – the last I looked at the computer it read 44.8-mph and I simply didn’t want to pedal any faster. After looking the ride up, I only managed 0.2-mph faster that last bit down the hill, but I found out the fun way exactly what my top end speed is in my biggest gear (50/11). I think I wore a smile on my face for the next hour.
At 24 miles we turned into Kensington Metro-park. Kensington is fantastically beautiful. Nature preserves, a huge lake, a golf course, and more hills than you can shake a stick at – some you actually have to climb. On the way up the big one, I shifted to my last gear, the 34/28, the little granny… Did I have to use the granny gear? Not really, but with that last shift, no matter what happened the rest of the ride, I’d used every gear I had.
We wound around the park trail after it left the park – they have a speed limit that I could only honor if I were pushing my bike. I would have to kick my own ass for riding 10-mph unless it was up a fair hill. We stopped at a gas station to pick up a couple of Coke’s and take a breather. It was starting to heat up. After finishing our drinks, we headed over to the pickle ball courts so Chuck could say hi to his wife – and we made it just in time for an A-10 Warthog flyover. It was spectacular.
Shortly after, we headed for home with a slight tailwind. The closer we got, the faster we went until my wife took the reigns and took a six mile turn between 22 & 30-mph on her aero bars. It was an awesome pull. I took over from there and took us home. We pulled into the parking lot with just under an 18-mph average. 53.8 miles in 3 hours. It was as good as it gets.
I have always been resilient to heat. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me like it does most people and I’ve never bothered to think much about it. I get hot, but am very much comfortable riding in everything up to the mid-90’s (about 115° off the asphalt) I just maintain my grateful attitude about it and watch as others suffer.
Until last night.
A friend and riding buddy of mine has been avoiding riding with friends because he has a sick relative they’ll be visiting soon. It’s one of those “worst case” scenarios so considering the current state of things, his only choice has been to ride solo. I’ve picked up that he’s been bummed about the fact that, as things open up and we’re all finding small groups to ride in, he’s been left out… so I asked if he’d like to ride the Tuesday night route, just the two of us. He cleared that with his wife and we met out at the church. As I pulled into the parking lot, the digital thermometer in my car showed a balmy 91 F (33 C). Now, if you’re keeping track, we went from the mid-40’s to ninety-freaking-one in two weeks. Not exactly any time to acclimatize in there. Still, I had every intention of having a fun, if warm and comfortable, ride.
I pulled my bike from the trunk, got kitted up and went for a four mile warmup. Yeah, warmup, 91°… I know. I felt fantastic and fast, too. Surprisingly so, considering I hadn’t had a day off the bike in more than a week. I didn’t bother with the full seven mile warmup as that would have been excessive. Four-and-a-half was good enough. Jonathan was prepping his bike when I pulled into the parking lot. There was only one other car besides ours, a E/D Group woman we see regularly under normal circumstances.
Jonathan and I rolled out early as we didn’t want to ride with anyone else. We started out side by side with tailwind for the first six miles. We had a 20 average when we hit headwind and I dropped behind Jonathan. We traded places regularly and were still sitting at a 19-1/2 average when the wheels fell off for me, about 17 miles in. I was breathing hard from what should have been a fairly small effort. The heat and 300 miles from the last week caught up to me. Fortunately, I think Jonathan was struggling in the heat as well.
With just nine miles to go, just maintaining 22-mph with a tailwind was difficult. I’m having a tough time wrapping my head around how I felt because I’ve never felt that way because of the heat. My power to the pedals was just ugly. I got the pedals around but it wasn’t pretty. With four miles left, I was sitting up, tongue dangling down by the spokes, beat. I was just happy to pull into the parking lot and climb off my bike. We’d dropped our average from 20-mph (which should have been easy to maintain), all the way down to 18.8.
I grabbed some dinner at the local Burger King. Firing that down only helped minimally. I’d say it was two hours after the ride before I started to feel… less loopy. I ended up falling asleep on the couch around 9 pm and crawled into bed around 11.
I slept like a baby till it was time to get up. Tonight it’ll be “no rest for the weary”, though I’m going to aim for an average, on the Trek, closer to 16-mph. I think it’s time for some active recovery miles because I cooked myself last night.
I made some big changes to my 2013 Venge this year. First, I grew tired of the 52/36 chainset so I swapped the chainrings for a compact 50/34 combo just into winter. After trying the 50/34 combo on my ’99 Trek with an 11/28 cassette and I absolutely loved it. I had enough top end for sprints and plenty of low end for climbing up the hardest hills I have to deal with all year easily (well, easily-ish – 22% is still 22%). I also chose anodized black chainrings over bead-blasted aluminum (a change I like a lot):
Next, I swapped out the Blackburn bottle cages for some lighter cages I picked up that, to tell the truth, looked better on the Venge than they did on my Trek – the newer styling just didn’t fit on my classic Trek.
Next up, I had to finally change out my pedals after six years. I’d worn the Look Keo’s out. I upgraded (and down-priced while dropping weight) to a set of iSSi carbon road pedals. With several hundred miles on them, they’re exactly as pedals should be – I don’t ever think about them.
Another new change for this season is a saddle upgrade. I switched from a Specialized Romin to a Selle Italia SLR Tekno Flow:
This decision was a little trickier to make. A Specialized Romin saddle was my first fitted road cycling saddle. I’ve ridden one since I bought my Trek 5200… like mid-season 2012, and I love that saddle. The Romin is heavy, though, and I wanted to give a svelte little carbon number a second chance. Its first, last summer, crashed and burned. Now that I’ve got a little bit of experience, it wasn’t the saddle that was the problem, it’s how I had it dialed in that was problematic.
After dialing it in, I’m glad I made the change. I’ve ridden it on short, 20-mile rides, a couple metric centuries, several 40-50 mile rides and one 104-miler. I still have to get a lot more base miles on it, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the saddle while getting those base miles. Of 199 weekend miles I rode 155 on the new saddle.
And after all that, I took the bike from 15.8 pounds down to 15.5
With our normal Horsey Hundred plans scrapped, we’ve made the most of what we had, locally. “Up north” was opened up at the last minute so everybody and their brother headed that way, presumably to get a haircut (kidding). That’s left an interesting scene here at home; COVIDcation traffic was minimal before. Now it’s a ghost town and we cyclists are taking every advantage.
Saturday, as it normally is over the Memorial Day weekend, was the big mileage day. I ended up with 104-1/2 miles on the day which is close to the norm in Kentucky.
Yesterday was the tough day. The day after my first hundred of the year is always rough for me. It doesn’t matter how many days in a row I’ve got under my belt, it doesn’t matter how many back-to-back hard days I do, that second day after a century… it takes me forever to get warmed up. Then, it seems as soon as I finally get loosened up, I tire out.
Such was the case yesterday. We’d planned a 35-mile route but had to add nine miles to avoid road construction. It was wet out to start. Thunderstorms rolled through early but the forecast was favorable after… and hot.
Normal temps for this time of year are around 75 (24 C) but we quickly jumped north of that to the mid 80’s (29 C)… Even with the heat the ride was going well and I was having fun… until we hit a freshly chip-sealed road done just the day before. We had to stay directly in the wheel tracks or the gravel was too loose and the bike would get squirrely. Then, because everything in the shade was still wet, I managed to pick up a little piece of gravel that must have had eyes and landed squarely between my bottom bracket and crank arm. It caused a marvelous “tick…tick…tick” every turn of the crank. One tick per revolution and it drove me nuts.
After a bit, the ticking subsided a bit and only showed up when I put big power to the pedals. Mildly annoying, but there are worse problems in the world. Immediately after the chip-seal ended and we were on decent road again, I wiped my tires and found a pebble had embedded itself into my rear tire. I stopped to dig it out, quickly, and caught back up to our small rabble. My wife and Mike had dropped off early to head back home. Mike had a cassette loose and was beat from Saturday’s ride. Mrs. Bgddy went with him so she could be fresh for today’s ride, so that left four of us. Big Joe split off to take a shortcut home and that left three off us.
Heading west with a healthy crosswind, I started feeling the cumulative effects of the miles. Since leaving everyone else, we’d picked the pace up considerably. Chuck split off for home and it was down to the other Chuck and me.
With five miles of tailwind we kept the pace lively but didn’t push it at all. Even so, with four miles to go, I was pretty much done and we had two of those miles into a headwind. Fortunately, neither of us cared about pace so we just sat up and took the wind as it was.
I won’t lie… I was happy to get off the bike yesterday. I was cooked.
And we’ll be doing it all over again today, only longer.
This is normally our first hundred mile ride of the season… a road trip down to Kentucky.
Till yesterday, I think my longest ride of the year was 63 miles.
However, we did get some good news. Things are opening up a little bit so we set up a little, ahem, ride. Technically, we maintained 6′ or 2 meters, but no guidelines were released on cycling so we delicately, taking into account the advanced age of some of the participants, invited people who would pose the least risk… and we had a real ride.
65-miles of drafting, laughing, joking, good-old-times cycling. We also split the 12 invited attendees into two groups.I’ll reserve the politics for another post and another time, because for the purposes of this post, it’s a celebration of a brief respite of normalcy.
I had a tough time with this – I wanted very much to open it up to everyone but the optics of a 40-person pace-line in the midst of all of this political hoohah would have sucked. That said, we didn’t get crowded by one pickup truck the whole ride and were often greeted with waves and encouragement. Shocked is a good word.
The ride was fantastic – it was simply nice to cruise with a decent group of friends again. We had laughs and held a really nice pace. We stuck together for the first fifteen miles or so, but split when the pace quickened on a freshly chip-sealed road. We went from a nice 22-mph to 25 on the mainly worked in gravel topping – provided we stayed in the tire lines created by vehicles. Wandering outside the paths would result in kicking up an abundance of loose stone. Once we’d split up, the pace really picked up with one guy taking the brunt of the work up front. He’s training for an Ironman so he simply sat up front and pulled us around the route. We each took a few miles here and there but it was largely a one man show at the front.
He, however, had a tee time to make so he kept going when we stopped for our second break 46 miles in. While we were bummed to lose our main horse, the pace moderated and we didn’t drop much at all.
We finished the 100 k route and three of us went on to grab a bite to eat and Subway before heading out to get us to 100 miles. We dropped a couple of tenths taking a slow roll to lunch but afterward, picked up right where we’d left off.
I held in great right up till the 102 mile mark (I rode to the ride, so I had five miles more than everyone else). I could hold a wheel, but my time pulling was done. Chuck and Mike still had a half-mile or so needed to cross 100 miles so they split left to chase up a hill and extend the route while I took a shortcut back to the parking lot.
With 104 miles showing on the Garmin, I was toast and more than happy letting a little time bleed off my average. I was just a shade under 20-mph and my tongue was dangling precariously close to my spokes.
And just like that, I was done. My first century for the year. And a century thoroughly enjoyed with friends.
How I missed real cycling. It was a treat.
Almost a year and a half ago, at a local endurance sport swap meet, a friend of mine gave me a Selle Italia SLR Tekno Flow Carbon Saddle. He was trying to get rid of some of his extensive inventory, something his significant other was pushing for, and he wasn’t going to go back to using the saddle on any of his bikes. Back then they were going for $410 – $460 online (you can find them as low as $320 today, though the MSRP is $436). My saddle at the time was a little on the heavy side, a Specialized Romin weighing in at 274 grams (0.60 of a pound) with a cost of around $100. The Selle Italia weighed in at a nice 110 grams, a savings of a third of a pound at no cost. In the history of cycling, dropping a third of a pound on a bike free is rare and fabulous.
I first put the saddle on my Trek 5200 last summer, and I must have hit the location just right because the saddle felt like butter on that bike. Some time later, I found a Bontrager Montrose Carbon team saddle on Bontrager’s website for the astonishing price of just $120. I jumped on it and the Montrose went on my Trek. I wanted the SLR for the Venge so I could drop some weight on my good bike. I fitted it up and rode it for all of two or three weeks before switching back to the heavier Romin. On my Specialized, the saddle just didn’t live up to the experience I had with it on the Trek. I attributed this to the Venge’s stiffer frame. The $400 saddle went into a box in my bike shed.
A few weeks ago, whilst on COVIDcation and bored out of my mind, I decided to dig that Selle out of the box and give it another try. Why not? I thought.
I learned something dialing in the Bontrager Montrose in for the Trek. First, I set the saddle where it should be (36-3/8″ +or- OR 92.4 cm). Then I dialed in the level of the saddle, first with a level at -2°, then by feel, so the nose supported my position in the drops and on the hoods, but didn’t dig into me. At the same time, the down angle wasn’t pushing me to the front of the saddle. It’s a delicate process. Once that was done, I went and raised the saddle by a millimeter to get the max height. I learned that if I was a little too high on the saddle, it would cause a lot of pain. So I went down that millimeter… and then another half for good measure after a week of riding, and that’s where I found heaven. It was perfect.
I simply applied that same setup technique to the Selle Italia on the Venge. However, and this is actually quite interesting, for the saddle on the Venge, I mistakenly started out too low by something like two millimeters… and that caused quite a bit of pain from the saddle digging into the side of my hip, just forward of the sit bone. I didn’t expect that… After one ride, I checked the height with my handy, dandy tape measure and ended up raising it to exactly 36-3/8″. My next ride on the saddle and I could tell a big difference – especially towards the end of the ride. Now, I don’t know how to put this delicately, but I’m going to give it my best. My nether regions have never felt so good after a ride. The inside of my hip was still healing up, but everything, erm, else… was fantastic.
The ride after that, a 100 k (may as well go big or go home), after the initial pain areas had time to heal up, the Selle Italia SLR actually felt like a $400+ saddle. I’ve got close to a half-dozen rides on the saddle, and I enjoy it thoroughly.
In other words, the reason I didn’t like the saddle on my Venge the first go ’round was because I didn’t quite have the setup right. The problem was installer error, but that’s an over-simplification. It appears to me now, that the teeny, tiny saddle has to be very carefully dialed in. There isn’t much room for error or you feel it in the heinie. This hypothesis would make my experience make sense, at least.
Oh, and this is a road saddle. I wouldn’t use that on gravel or single-track. No chance.
Incidentally, I’ve got a little more than a 4-1/4″ drop from the saddle to the handlebar and I’ve got the nose down at 1°.
UPDATE: Did 104 miles on it yesterday… I was feeling a little rough after, but it was my longest ride if the year… by 41 miles. It was actually awesome.
How I STAY Fast; A Noob’s Guide to Maintaining a 23-mph Average on a Bicycle and the Mental Edge Needed to Do It.
As the Greg LeMond quote goes, it never gets easier, you just go faster, was ever thus…
The most popular post I’ve ever written is centers on how I trained to get fast enough to hold a 23-mph average in a pack. That’s fast enough some believe we can’t possibly hold that on open roads but I assure you, we do… and I’m not even in the A Group. Our A Group is up to a 25-mph average on Tuesday nights. On open roads.
I’ve been 150 pounds dripping wet and held a 23-mph average (though I was more prone to cramping and bonking). I’ve been 175 pounds and held the same average. Though my wife prefers me at 175 (I’m happier at 165 but she says I’m too skinny). I’ve held 23-mph on a 21-pound carbon road bike with a faulty headset and a triple drivetrain, and on that same road bike three pounds lighter and completely rebuilt from the ground up with a compact double chainset, and then on a 15-pound aero-everything racing steed.
Oh, and I’ll turn 50 in a couple of months.
I’d love to tell you the bike matters a lot, but it doesn’t. The bike helps a lot, of course – a great aero bike makes fast easier but I still have to have the fitness in the first place. The ride, on a 15 pound aero bike is obviously a lot easier that the old triple was, but I still managed. I think more than weight, the keys for the bike are decent, working components, good wheels, and proper setup. Get those right, and that’s most of the battle. This changes as we get above the 21+ pound range for a bike, though.
My first foray into speed in cycling was addictive and that’s really what got me started on the right foot. I only lasted eight miles with the main group – I was dropped like a dirty shirt when they accelerated from a reasonable 23-24-mph to 28 – but I found a small slice of heaven on earth that first ride. Being a part of that kind of speed and group effort ticked a lot of boxes for me – and it’s only gotten better in the last eight years (I had a solo year and change prior).
And I have gotten faster… but it has gotten easier. Ish. Hear me out.
The keys to getting fast were numerous. Proper hydration, proper nutrition (and a lot of it), proper rest (not much) that included mainly active recovery rides… and a whole $#!+-ton of “want to”. Without the “want to” I may as well have bought a beach cruiser.
Most important, I got my cycling legs after a few years, and that’s where the “maintaining” starts.
Cycling legs are acquired, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Let’s back this bus up just a second, though. First, “cycling legs” are a “thing”, and I’ll get back to that in a minute. Second, the acquisition of cycling legs depends on how hard one is willing to work for them. The typical length of time it takes is three years, though this can shortened or lengthened depending on effort, commitment, and mileage. In the end, cycling legs are the body’s natural reaction to cycling on a regular basis. If there is no “regular basis”, then no cycling legs for you.
Once you’ve been around the block a few hundred times, with the exception of the rare bonk (which still happens, and sometimes even when you’ve done everything right), you can rely on the legs to get you through rides that don’t go quite as expected… and that leads us to the second important factor in maintaining “fast”; the mental end.
I always chuckle when my wife gets the mistaken impression that, in a 20-mph headwind, I’m spinning at 18-mph for 20 miles and she thinks I’m just sitting up there with a smile on my face, cruising down the road without a care in the world. To a certain extent, she isn’t wrong, but for any avid enthusiast, that hurts. The mental end of cycling is knowing down to your baby toes what you can get away with without putting yourself in the pain cave from whence there is no return. What separates the fast from the moderate cyclist is the ability to not think oneself into more pain than what is really there – and the conviction of knowing that even if you’re not feeling too hot for a couple of miles, you will come around if you dial it back just a hair. My wife isn’t much slower than I am but she completely lacks the mental edge I have. If she starts hurting, she immediately wants to dial the pace back. When I start hurting, I start breaking the ride down into chewable segments in my head. “I just have a few miles before we get to this turn and tailwind”. This gets me through the hard times and back to where I’m feeling okay again.
Then there’s the knowledge that everyone else is hurting and the pain of keeping up can’t last forever… I know down to my baby toes, if I’m three bikes back and struggling to hold a wheel in a headwind, the person up front is cooking themselves. They won’t hold that pace for very long or they’ll drop off the back. Without being able to compartmentalize the ride in one’s mind, all you’re left with is how you’re feeling at any given moment, and if you’re there, you’re in pain. We faster types figure out how shut that thinking down. There’s no place for it.
This mental edge is your experience. It’s knowing how to fuel your ride, it’s knowing where to push, where to hide, and just how far you can go before you pop… and it’s knowing down to your baby toes that “how far you can go before you pop” is subjective. You can do better. And it’s knowing that if you’re hurting, others likely are as well. Just stick with it and you’ll come around. Or you’ll blow up spectacularly and fall off the back to spin for a few miles while you recharge. Friends, it happens.
If you really have a desire to be fast, the thing to work on, once you’ve gotten a bike and your cycling legs, is that gray matter betwixt your ears. That’s where the magic happens.