After a stressful day at the office, I need a way to separate it from home. Not only do I hate bringing the office home, let’s just say my wife is less than appreciative having to deal with a frazzled me.
Governments and health care professionals recommend 30 minutes of exercise a day. I’ll admit to exceeding that by a bit, but it takes what it takes and 30 minutes just isn’t good enough for me. I’m sure only the politician would find a way to complain.
So off I go, shortly after I arrive home… I suit up, pump up, sort the hydration and roll.
48 to 52 minutes later, I’m ready to be me again, I’m ready to be home. It’s a rare day I ride to stay fit anymore – “fit” was why I started cycling. Nowadays, I ride to stay sane and happy. A decent physique is simply a perk that comes with putting a smile on my face and getting centered to be present for my family.
I was talking to a young fella at the bike shop the other day who brought in an old Nishiki for repair. He bought the bike to commute two miles to work but quickly found that he was making the journey seven miles to spend more time on the bike.
He was struggling for words to explain the next bit on his mind. I smiled and filled in the blank by finishing his sentence…. Riding takes you back to the best part of being a kid again. We laughed at the bond two people share when they’re on the same wavelength and went our separate ways, both of us smiling.
While there’s no doubt I love a good, long ride on the weekend, I barely have an hour on weekdays…. That’s enough though.
Of course, now that I write this post I’m sure to be @$$ deep in bike problems in three…. two…. one…..
I walked into the bike room Friday afternoon, looking for something to tinker with. Bar tape, indexing of a derailleur, a minor brake adjustment, even wiping one of the two bikes down.
Nothing. Chains are clean and lubed, the bikes are immaculate, the brakes are perfectly centered, front and rear derailleurs are perfectly indexed…. Headsets are perfectly square and tightened down. Actually, speaking of squaring a headset/fork/handlebar, I can give you a simple cheat to get your stem and handlebar perfectly lined up with the fork. First line your stem up to your tire, eyeball it like most normal people do, then mount the bike and look down at the bar top and how it relates to the front wheel hub:
If you’re more than a quarter of a degree off, you should be able to see it easily. Line the front edge of the handlebar with the hub and tighten the stem screws down.
While this is obviously a good place to be, this is actually a sad time for me. I don’t need anything. I’ve got great wheels, nice, clean bikes, saddles that work excellently on each of my bikes – and everything is mechanically sound, my components match the bike they belong to and my colors are perfect throughout the stable… I’ve even got five kits in rotation, all but one matches the paint scheme of the bikes – and that one is a 2012 Colorado Challenge jersey (the year I bought the 5200 in the photo above) and I’ve got my USA Jersey for 4th of July rides…
There is one glowing bit of awesomeness that rises higher than simply having a few nice bikes though: All I have left to do is ride.
That’s a really good place to be..
Sundays are my favorite days to ride. No chance of a work call and the one day of the week, I wouldn’t much care if I got one. That’s what they make voicemail for. For that reason alone, it really bums me out to miss a Sunday for rain. We had a spectacular route picked out for the day too, but the forecast wasn’t good. When Sunday got here, though, TWC said we had a window. A small one…
The mist lightly brushed my face as I walked out from under the roof of the front porch. Fog too, and it was looking a little thick. I still hooked the bike rack up to my car. The Weather Channel promised we would be okay till at least 11 anyway, and that would be just enough to get our 100k in, with stops. Even so, I don’t melt in water.
This is why I have a rain bike. It doesn’t matter if I get caught out – it’s one less thing to worry about. One less excuse.
I pumped up four tires, got four water bottles filled and squared away, got all my gear loaded, then my wife’s bike and my Trek loaded on the car. We were off shortly thereafter. Fifteen minutes later we were in the High School parking lot getting ready. Fifteen minutes after that a dozen of us were in formation and rolling.
The ride was awesome, fun and more than three hours. We didn’t get a bit wet and the ride was a blast. As is almost always the case.
I am so incredibly grateful for living in our little slice of rural Michigan. We’ve got maybe ten weekend routes of 60 miles or better, only one the requires actually driving to, where we’re far enough out in the country that we rarely have to worry about traffic. We’re close enough to everything but definitely far enough removed from the hustle and bustle of big city life.
Sunday’s ride was typical, really. Good Times and Noodle Salad… just like life should be.
Across the pond in England, they call it a winter bike. I call it a rain bike, my dedicated, “better than 15% chance of rain” bike… because not only was the good bike expensive, replacement parts are freaking ridiculous. We call it a rain bike over in the US because they don’t get snow in the UK like we get snow, and there’s no riding a road bike in the snow. Skinny tires are hard enough in the rain, dude!
Ideally, the responsible way to pick a rain bike is to relegate the old A bike to rain bike status when you get a new A bike. At least that’s how I did it until I bought my Specialized.
My first rain bike was a Cannondale, all aluminum with a chro-mo fork… Riding on an actual railroad rail would only be slightly less comfortable:
Ultimately, the rain bike will be set-up quite close to the A bike – and thus why I like relegating the old A bike to rain bike status. The closer the two bikes are in set-up, the more seamless it will be to transition between the two when the weather has a chance of getting nasty.
Now, say money wasn’t an object (it is) and I wanted to keep the Trek as an heirloom bike, updating the components. My A bike is a Specialized Venge:
It just so happens that I know the next best thing to a Venge is an Allez. There are minor differences of course, but I should be able to match the set-up on the Venge easily. Let’s say I had a Tarmac for an A bike, I would go with a Secteur or Roubaix. Those pairings in Specialized’s line-up match up in geometry fairly close.
Now, let’s get into how I know this, because most people won’t know how in God’s name to figure out which geometries work within a bike line: I took a factory photo of an Allez, made it transparent, and placed it over a factory photo of a Venge. The only difference to work around is the head tube height on the cheaper Allez models. Now, if you have a shop owner who builds frames, they can look at the published geometry numbers…. I don’t have the time to apprentice for him so I can learn how the numbers work.
Beyond that, because my rain bike has a vastly different geometry from my A bike (they’re even different sizes), I transferred the numbers from the A bike to the rain bike then took both bikes to the shop to have them compared. I’m as close as I can get the two bikes. I paid attention when the Trek and Venge were fitted to me, so I know what to measure and how to change the set-up. Simple as that.
One more thing to consider….
There’s a neat reason I like my 5200 for my rain bike: Easy Access Repairs. I have completely stripped down and put back together my Trek. I can change a brake or shifter cable in minutes. I have internal routing on the Venge so it’s a little tricky should a cable fray while I’m up north on a road trip in the middle of a four day tour. This is a tiny point, though. Barely worth mentioning, but still, a fair point indeed.
In the end, I want my Venge to operate flawlessly for as long as possible so I prefer to have a rain bike should we be heading out under a chance of rain. The rain bike takes the abuse so the A bike can shine.
Worse case scenario, and this is what I really appreciate, with a rain bike in the stable I never have to miss a day on the bike with my friends should the A bike go down and have to spend some time at the shop for a repair.
Of course, there is one other non-option: Take a day off every time you think it’s going to rain…. but that’d be silly.
UPDATE: Ian, in the comments section, offered that a good idea for a rain bike is to go with a cyclocross bike. This way, gravel roads are opened up as well. It’s an excellent idea.
We rolled out early, 7 am on the screws, and I had a nice smile stretched across my face. The sun was just coming up, it was a wonderful 70 degrees (21C) with no wind.
That’s my favorite thing about summertime cycling. Days where the only wind is that which I create with forward motion. On a bicycle.
It’s a pretty simple route, a hybrid out and back with a loop, but all of the good stuff is saved for the second half. We started out tame, between 20 & 21 mph, but it got hectic pretty fast…. specifically when Winston took the lead for something like five miles taking it up to 22-24. Once he relinquished the front it calmed down a little bit, but not by much which suited me just fine. We may only get a half-dozen days in a year where we don’t have any wind and, if you didn’t already know, when there’s no wind the draft is ridiculously awesome. 22 mph at the back of a decent pace line (we had seven or eight) feels like 15.
All of a sudden, it felt like I was working way too hard. We were coming down a shallow but long hill (less than one percent) and I had it cranked up to 26-27. I broke the group up and turned the corner to head home and my wife got behind me…. After 20 seconds she asked Chuck if it looked like my wheel was wobbling. Chuck agreed and I had a look. It wasn’t quite hitting the brakes but it was wobbling pretty good. I kept pedaling and reached back to open up the brake release. Then the proverbial wheels fell off.
The wobbling increased over a couple of bumps and before long I was hitting the brakes twice every time the wheel went around. Fortunately I carry a spoke tool so we stopped to tighten up the offending spoke. Unfortunately, the spoke nipple was broken… I just put everything away, dropped my pouch in my back pocket and rolled on, wheel hitting brake.
When it was all done, that was the hardest I’d ever worked for a 20 mph average over 36 miles, but man did I have a good time…. and we were back home before 9 am.
This little tale ends interestingly. I took my wheel into the shop to have the spoke nipple replaced and the wheel trued. When it was all said and done, two nipples were broken and five more had to be replaced. I was lucky the wheel didn’t fall apart on me!
Almost Everything a New Cyclist Needs to Know About Modern Road Bike Shifters and How they Work; A Noob’s Guide.
Modern bike shifters, also known as integrated brake and shift levers, are the second best innovation to cycling since they put gears on a bicycle. The only greater innovation in the last century and change is the clipless pedal. Not carbon fiber, bro. Not electronic Bluetooth shifting (yes, that’s a thing), sister.
Some will claim the old down tube shifters were better. Randonneuring fans occasionally swear by bar end shifters. I won’t bother wading into that swamp. One thing is for certain, for sport cyclists, only clipless pedals have made the sport safer, more accessible and more enjoyable.
Now we don’t have to move our hands from the handlebars to shift…. or away from the brakes. I have ridden an older bike with down tube shifters in a group setting and that set-up is a stark disadvantage. Rather than shifting every time a different gear is necessary, one tends to push too hard a gear with the down tube system rather than reach for the shifter – same for bar end shifters. Instead, whether riding with one’s hands on the hoods or down in the drops, the shifters are inches away.
Let’s work on some vocabulary too, because I just realized that last paragraph may seem like a foreign language to some (click to embiggen):
Like the clipless pedal, if you’re new to cycling, the shifters can be a little daunting – until you use them and get used to how they work. Once you know what you’re doing, they’re incredibly intuitive and wonderful. This post will get into how several of the shifters “work”.
There are three main brands and one new upstart that will become very popular in the coming years. The big three are Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. The new company is MicroSHIFT. Of course, they’re all different in the manner they work. I own shifters from two different brands, Shimano and MicroSHIFT. I am, however, familiar with Campagnolo and SRAM.
Now, many people become confused because the shifter “buttons” move the chain in reverse direction front to back. However, when you consider what they actually do, both shifter levers/buttons move the chain similarly, to smaller or bigger rings. For instance, let’s start with the vastly more popular shimano shifters:
So that’s the right hand shifter. The left operates the front derailleur for the larger sprockets called “chain rings”. The inside shift lever moves the chain from the bigger chain ring to the smaller chain ring. The Main Shift Lever moves the chain from the smaller chain ring to a bigger chain ring. The direction the chain moves is different but the levers actually do the same thing. One lever moves the chain to a smaller ring/cog and the other to a bigger ring/cog.
Now let’s have a look at MicroSHIFT, which is set up a lot like Campagnolo, only the shifters are about three to six times less expensive. Seriously.
For the MicroSHIFT shift levers, the main silver lever is only a brake lever. Unlike the Shimano shifters, that only moves front to back and applies the brakes. The shift button shifts the chain to a smaller cog in the back. The shift lever moves the chain to a bigger cog. Same for the left side (the button moves to a smaller ring, the lever to a bigger ring).
For Campagnolo, you have the lever and button system and the levers and buttons do the same things as the MicroSHIFT levers and buttons:
As I wrote earlier, Campagnolo components are the more expensive than the MicroSHIFT components, but Campagnolo is Italian and enjoys the “cool” label. Campagnolo is what all of the cool kids use… Well, at least the cool kids who can afford $500 for their shifters and $130 for a cassette. We mere mortals with one household income, a spouse, and kids tend to go for the Shimano/SRAM setup…. My cassettes cost about $40.
So, we’ve covered some basics about what the shifters do, how they operate, and in general, that Campagnolo is the coveted, more expensive brand. We’ve scratched the surface of the full shifter education. Barely. I’ve stayed away from SRAM thus far because SRAM went their own way a while ago when it comes to shifters… To tell you the truth, I’ve never even used a set so I can’t comment intelligently on the double-tap system they employ for their shifters.
With that said, with each of the Brands, there are several product lines within the brands. There are nine lines within “Shimano”… Let’s see, going top of the line to bottom: Dura Ace Di2 (Electronic), Dura Ace, Ultegra Di2 (Electronic), Ultegra, 105*, Tiagra, Sora, Claris, Tourney, and A050. I placed an asterisk next to 105 because that is said to be the line of demarcation between racing components and leisure cruising. Also, the 105 line is Shimano’s workhorse. That line is known industry-wide to last forever and a day, and to take a beating.
Then Campagnolo: EPS (Electronic), Super-Record, Record, Chorus, and Centaur. Campagnolo Super-Record EPS runs anywhere from $2,700 to $4,000 for the entire line, while Shimano Dura Ace Di2 runs about $2,300, give or take, for the entire line of components. SRAM etap runs about $1,900 and is cable free – the components speak to each other via Bluetooth. Seriously.
The SRAM line is: Red etap, Red, Force, Force 1x, Rival, Rival 1x, Apex and Apex 1x (1x refers to only one chain ring… no front derailleur).
Each brand above is listed top of the line to bottom. The higher the line in the hierarchy, the more expensive and lighter the components (with the exception of the electronic models – the batteries add weight). Now, I can even give you the differences between the brands, stereotypically speaking. Shimano shifters are buttery smooth. SRAM, on the other hand, give a grand “clunk” when they shift…. you know you’ve shifted a gear with SRAM. Campagnolo (aka “Campy”) are dead in the middle of Shimano and SRAM. Smooth, but with enough feedback to know you’ve shifted. MicroSHIFT tends to be even more buttery than Shimano… They’re smooth.
That last paragraph is why Campy components are so popular.
Finally, I want to talk about one more thing in relation to noobs and shifters, something that came up a few weeks ago on one of the blogs I follow: Dial indicators on the shifters. For Shimano, only Claris, Sora and the 050 lines have dial indicators – the bottom of the line-up. There is a reason for this: Once you’ve ridden for ten minutes without the indicators, you realize you really don’t need them because typically we shift till we run out of gears, then we shift into the small chain ring up front… and we have ten or eleven more gears (eight or nine for the lower lines) to work with. What gear I’m in doesn’t matter. What matters is my cadence and speed, so the dial indicators become useless….
They become useless because my drivetrain is tuned so well, I can shift both shifters at the same time, going up a hill, and my chain won’t drop. I’ll just keep rolling. Then there’s the “When in doubt, Baby Ring” way to manage hills and shifting. If I don’t think I can climb a hill in the easiest gear with the chain on the big ring, I instantly shift to the baby ring (up front, remember; cogs are in back, chain rings are up front). Shifting to a harder gear going up a hill is easy. Shifting to an easier chain ring, unless you really know what you’re doing, is not. If it looks like I might need the little ring, I don’t hesitate – this way I’m never caught in the wrong gear.
That covers the basics of shifters… stay tuned next Friday and I’ll dig a little deeper.
My Trek was about as clean as an eighteen year-old bike can possibly be. Two coats of wax, and polished to perfection….
Rarely will you find a bike that has been through so much, including being a loaner bike for the local shop for years, look so good. With the obvious exception of the well-worn components, the bike was immaculate…. I-m-m-a-c-u-l-a-t-e.
Eventually, I will be glad that our road was resurfaced. The old cracks are filled in and it’ll be smooth once again… In the meantime though, it sucks. Dirty, dusty and nasty, for two or three weeks until the rock chips are finally seated in the tar base layer. Even then, it’ll be next spring before it’s smooth enough to enjoy riding on again.
Curse you Chip Seal.