A Noob’s Guide for What to Look for In a New Bike; Components, Brakes, Shocks, and Just About Everything Else…
I read a post the other day that spurred me on to write this post. A wife and husband are picking up new bikes and they chose gravel bikes with Shimano Sora Components… so I thought it might be neat to write about my extensive experience with much of the Shimano line… because I’ve got close to the full line between the bike room and the garage.
Specialized Venge: Ultegra 10sp.
Trek 5200: 105 10sp.
Specialized Diverge: Sora 9sp.
Specialized Diverge (wife’s bike): Claris 8sp.
Specialized Alias (wife’s bike): 105 11sp.
Specialized Rockhopper Sport Disc 29’er: Acera/Altus mix
Trek 3800 (mtb): It’s a 2008 entry level…
Co-Motion Periscope Tandem: 105 10sp.
So, here’s the deal. A lot of noobs get into trouble purchasing inferior components for the style of riding they’re looking for. Myself included, right up until I bought my 5200 and Venge… and the Rockhopper 29’er – that was an important purchase as this post goes. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Most noobs are going to go to the shop with a number for how much they want to spend and pick their bike from the price-range. While one must keep an eye on the budget, this is entirely the wrong way to start a bicycle purchase, especially for the avid enthusiast. This will work for a gravel bike, but definitely not a road bike and not a mountain bike – unless you’ve got the big bucks and you’re going high-end anyway.
Shimano Claris, on one hand and the line that came on my wife’s gravel bike, is gnarly stuff. I wouldn’t put that on a bike if you paid me and I’m going to upgrade her out of that as soon as I can afford a better drivetrain. The problem with Claris is that my wife and I have both ridden on 105 equipped bikes. Once you’ve ridden good components, the Claris never seems like it’s dialed in quite right. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work as well as what we expect. Sora, on the other hand, a step up from Claris, and the line I have on my gravel bike, is surprisingly nice. There’s a large gap between the two lines and even though I’m quite the picky enthusiast, I’m always impressed with how well my Gravel bike shifts. I’d never want Sora on one of my good bikes, but it’s absolutely acceptable on the gravel bike.
To get off on a tangent for a second, another thing to look out for, especially on mountain and gravel bikes, is the brake system. When I was looking for a new mountain bike, I wanted to upgrade from my entry-level Trek 3800 but I didn’t want to go too crazy. My wife bought the Rockhopper Sport Disc 29’er for a few good reasons. First, the upgraded fork. The entry-level rigs come with a shock that isn’t all that tough. Not enough for what I’d put it through. As a cyclist gets stronger, their ability and willingness to hammer a bicycle increases, thus the weaker entry-level fork had to go – it simply wouldn’t hold up to the abuse I was capable of putting it through. Next was the brakes… Entry-level brakes, mechanical disc brakes are good enough, but hydraulic discs are the only way to go. On top of that, the discs themselves are pretty gnarly at the entry-level grade. If you heat them up on a descent then splash through a puddle, the cheaper discs can warp. So rather than spend $460 on an entry-level mountain bike, I went for the $700 model and I’m really glad I did. It’s held up great and been an enjoyable bike.
My Specialized Rockhopper Sport Disc 29er… Beefier fork, upgraded disc brakes.
My first “real” bike, the 2008 Trek 3800 – plain entry-level in every way.
And this is really touching on the important point here; my wife and I are avid cyclists and, to put it simply, the quality of the Claris line simply isn’t up to our performance needs. While there’s nothing really wrong with the line, it’s not up to the rigors we’ll put it through. To be able to keep up with us, we need something sturdier. I was hoping we might get away with saving some money on the gravel bikes but I was mistaken. After all, a $3,000 gravel bike isn’t such a big deal in the scheme of things. Buying two of them, well now you’re talking about some money.
Put simply, my friends, entry-level components are great for entry-level cyclists.
105 and Ultegra
It has been said, since long before I was a cyclist, that 105 is the base minimum for race-worthy Shimano components. 105, especially the 11-speed 105 components, are butter when compared against the lower component lines. The line is also Shimano’s workhorse. 105 is the line for the abusive cyclist who puts their bike through the paces – even the person who tends to shift heavy (under pressure – not weight) can reasonably rely on 105 to work well for years. Its only penalty is in weight.
My Trek 5200 – a 1999 vintage super-bike with a 2013 drivetrain.
Finally, we come to the limit of my personal riding experience; Ultegra. The Ultegra line is almost as durable as the 105 line (not quite, but very close) and saves about 200 grams (almost a half-a-pound) over the 105 component line. Where the Ultegra line shines is in its smoothness of operation. The Trek above came with an Ultegra triple drivetrain and that component set was absolutely put through the ringer over seventeen years before the shifters started failing from use, abuse, grit and grime (the bike was beat up pretty good before I bought it). Imagine your Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Mashed potatoes, turkey, stuffing/dressing, maybe a little salad… though I left something out – the gravy. That’s the difference between the 105 and Ultegra lines, the gravy.
My Specialized Venge with Ultegra components
The shifter/brake levers are carbon fiber in lieu of alloy, and the components work smoothly and flawlessly. They’re light, wonderful and not even in the same continent as the Sora components. 105 is a good line of components, Ultegra is great.
There once was a time when the Dura Ace line was ultra-light, but finicky to keep tuned. Those days are long gone. The line is ultra-light still, but it doesn’t suffer the old stubbornness. It’s wildly expensive, but if you absolutely have to have the lightest bike possible, this is the end of Shimano’s line. The only place to go after that is SRAM Red – not even Campagnolo can get under Dura Ace. I have several friends who ride the Dura Ace line and I’ve never seen a missed shift – and I’ve spent days riding next to or behind Dura Ace bikes. Dura Ace is as good as it gets. The only downside to Dura Ace is cost. I can get an Ultegra cassette for $50-$60. A Dura Ace cassette runs $130-$140 online. It could be worse, though the aforementioned SRAM Red cassette goes for double that.
So there you have it, my friends. Each component line improves in quality and durability up to 105. After 105, the durability drops (though not significantly) with the weight, but the quality increases. As a noob, you’re going to have to decide whether or not you’re going to become an avid enthusiast or not, pretty quick. Cycling is, as you well know, an expensive sport to begin with. It’s exceptionally expensive when you have to buy multiple bikes to get out from under the lower component lines. It’s much better to swing for the fences early, if you know what I mean.
I started out the 2018 doubtful I’d be able to beat 2017’s 9,392 mile total. A lot went right last year and I had to ride a bunch just to make it to 9,000 miles (let alone almost 9,400). Humorously, when I started out 2017, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to beat 2016’s 8,509 miles… That’s been a theme, really, since 2012.
Eventually (probably next year?) I’ll plateau, even drop mileage year-over-year, and I’m perfectly okay with that because now that I’m up in the higher mileage bracket I’ve realized something important: The 10,000 mile mark, while ‘neat’, isn’t the important part. What’s important is the time in the saddle I was able to spend with my friends. I had a lot of fun this year and I’m excited for another packed full with great memories.
As a final note, for those who don’t consider trainer miles as miles ridden, for your count, I have 8,000 miles this year (almost on the nose). As far as I care, though, I figure if I ride the miles, they count. I’d happily ride outside if it wasn’t 15° F (-9.4 C) and dark at 5:15 in the evening. Gotta love winter in Michigan. In any event, with the days I’ve got left in 2018, if I average 15 miles a day I’ll have 10,000 in the bag – and that should be easy enough.
Ride hard, my friends.
I am Absolutely, Entirely Powerless Against the Argument in My Head which is Why I Skip the Whole $#!+ Show
Trigger (heh) warning: I’m not going to hide my crazy for this post. Indeed, the only way to beat crazy is to stop fighting and accept it. You have been trigger (heh) warned.
I have the willpower of a potato. A potato. I know, you guys are thinking, “Dude writes a blog about fitness and recovery, he has
25 26-years sober, actually works the program, has a ridiculous fitness regimen, riding every day for weeks on end… Don’t mistake dedication and discipline for willpower. If I deviated from the plan to avoid a mouse fart I’d be screwed. What I do is discipline and repetition and that gives the appearance of willpower.
If I were to take a drink tomorrow at lunch, I’d be $#!+ faced drunk before dinner, you can bank on it. Wait a second! Man, it has been a while! I’d skip dinner so the food wouldn’t mess up my buzz. Sheesh.
I had a great sponsor when I was young in sobriety who taught me how understand how my melon fought the part of me that just wanted to be happy – he taught me that there were warring parts of my brain – and that the fight between them could be weighted with a little bit of effort. And this is how that works…
Say there’s a happy, sober me and a drunk on a bar stool me. There’s a straight line plotted from one me to the other. At some point a thought enters my melon related to having a drink, usually beer. That thought leads to a craving. Then, I have a little argument in my head that’s touched off by that craving for a drink. For instance, I have one of those “man, I just got done cutting the grass, it’s 90° (F, that’s something like 30 C)…. a beer sure would taste good right now” thoughts. Folks, at 26 years sober, they’re rare but they still happen.
In the bad old days before I sobered up but after I wanted to sober up, when I was ignorant enough to think all of the thoughts that entered the gray matter had some validity to them and therefore, they should be contemplated. I’d roll it around in my head a little bit. Eventually I would have an argument in my head about whether or not I should have a drink. Even though I knew that drink would eventually lead to me drunk on that bar stool, I would lose the argument in my head. Every time. Sure enough, I’d promise myself, “This time it’ll be different”… and head to a bar to order a beer. Then another. And another… I’d end up drunk on that bar stool and in even deeper trouble.
I should add, that once I lost the argument, there was no changing my mind. I’d already lost. It’s entirely wrong-headed, but it is what it is. I digress…
The key to the mistake was letting the argument proceed in the first place.
It never occurred to me to shut the “discussion” down before it could even get going. If I don’t have the argument, I can’t lose it.
Applied to drinking, shut the argument down before it gets legs and starts running. That, I truly believe, is the difference between success and failure. Say I have that “A beer would taste good right now” thought. Today, my response differs greatly from the old days. Today it’s more like, “Jesus, I really need a meeting”. Also, unlike the old days, when that second thought is “I need a meeting”, I actually go to a meeting.
To the uninitiated, this process of shutting down the argument in the melon can seem problematic. The problem is, what happens if the thought comes back. Well, the simplistic answer is you just keep shutting it down till you move onto something else. That’s not always easy, though. It requires… now come a little closer so I can whisper it… practice. When I first came up with this whole nutty answer to my bat-shit crazy melon, I had to practice shutting the thoughts down. It could take upwards of a half-hour before I’d turn my attention to something else. The more I practiced, though, the better I got at it.
Today it’s almost seamless, from one thought to the next. All too often we judge ourselves based on the first thought that enters our head. When those thoughts are bad enough, we turn on the ass-kicking machine and we mentally beat up on ourselves over it. I’ve found that I’m not my first subconscious thoughts. Today, I’m my second thoughts. It’s not bad that a crazy idea pops into the gray matter every now and again. It’s what I do with that crazy idea that counts.
Just something to gnaw on.
Over at One Regular Guy Who Writes About Food, Exercise and Living Past 100, Tony writes at the link above about a new study out that shows endurance training, but not resistance training, has anti-aging effects…
It’s about time endurance sports caught a break.
It seems there’s a new report coming out every other day lately misrepresenting a study, going so far as to say cardio makes one fat. They go back to the Paleozoic Era or some craziness to support the notion that, while evolution is a thing, it really isn’t because back when the first people roamed the Serengeti for food, they would have starved to death if cardio was good for losing weight.
Folks, I just have to interject this one bit of sanity here; eating too much is bad for losing weight. Cycling, running, walking, or rowing are fantastic ways to lose weight. Are they the most effective? Now that’s debatable, but I’ll maintain that whatever puts a smile on your face and makes you feel good about exercise is the best. Sure, if I had a home gym, a personal trainer and a chef to cater to my every whim and a $500,000 a month paycheck, now that is the most effective way to lose weight!
Anyone who wants to fund that lifestyle for me – for research purposes, of course, drop a line in the comments section. All serious offers will be considered. Sadly, I won’t be getting a tattoo of your company logo on my forehead in exchange for funding that lifestyle, either, because money is nice but stupid is forever. Anyway, I’ve gone way off on a tangent, so let’s bring the ship back ’round. It’s time endurance sports caught a break…
Folks, there’s something exceptionally rewarding when it comes to endurance sports over your quick and easy high intensity intervals or the gym. It’s not that HIIT and the gym don’t have their place, they obviously do, it’s that heading out for a cruise on the bike and covering 40 miles in a couple of hours – you just see so much! There’s nothing that comes close to that experience in a gym… or in 20 minutes.
Your Soul Best Belong to Jesus, because Your @$$ belongs to Us; How to Know when You’re a(n Avid Enthusiast) Cyclist.
You just bought your first road bike, a Specialized Allez or Trek 1.2, and you’re ready to roll with the big dogs!. You’ve got a couple of pairs of shorts, a jersey or two, mountain bike shoes and pedals and you’re ready to go.
You search the web for local clubs, check out their websites and show up for some rides. Noobs are the lifeblood of a Cycling Club so if you’re close to “decent people”, you make friends quickly.
You’re not hooked quite yet. But the operative word in that last sentence is “yet”.
You find a few rides that you really like and become a regular. You’re invited to weekend, non-club rides and you start having a lot more fun. You feel like you’re part of the Club and you look forward to riding with your new friends.
Now we’ve got you.
You pick up some new wheels, maybe. Book a few trips with your friends. Your spouse sees how much fun you’re having and decides to give it a go…. Then you buy your first carbon fiber bike and your cycling life becomes so much more enjoyable.
Now you’re going on several trips a year with your friends. You’re fit as a fiddle and life has become fun – and that is why cycling is such a draw…
Once you get over the initial work of getting fit, once the training stops hurting so much, and once you find some friends to ride with, living is fun. That’s why folks stay cyclists for much of their lives once they’re hooked (close calls or crashes excepted). It also explains why cycling fanatics are fanatics.
That’s how we hook you. Add to that, your desire to keep up, and you go from that cheap first bike (that you initially thought was outlandishly expensive at the time) to needing something a little more… carbon fiber – and worth more than the car you drive..
At that point it’s all over but the shouting. Welcome to the club.
I’m wrapping up a big job, a 249 unit apartment building with its own pool room, drive out basement garage, stadium seat theater, gym, yoga room, massage room and room for a dozen or so retail stores. Folks, it’s Texas big.
So we’re down to our last week and we’re punching the last units before we pack up and move on to the next one. I was on the second floor, to touch up the finish behind the washing machine in a unit and the superintendent walked around the corner. I’d been talking with the painter while I was waiting for the super to unlock the door. So the super hollers something at us, but from more than 300-ish feet away, he was impossible to understand.
I jogged down the hall to hear better what he had to say….
So he starts in on me about if I think I’m fast and out of left field he challenges me to a race down the corridor.
See, the superintendent is younger than I am, by eleven years. By racing him, I have nothing to lose – if I win, I win. If I lose, I’m an older man… so I accepted.
We lined up, with the painter about a football field away. I looked over at him and reminded him that he was racing an old fart. The painter raised his arm…. and dropped it.
We were off! I was slow off the line and about a foot behind. A hundred feet in and I was up to speed but the super was fast. Still, I was right with him. And then it clicked – I went from pushing to more of a floating stride. Those who run know what I’m talking about even if I didn’t do a great job of describing it.
Just at that second, the superintendent said, “Let’s go” or something along that line in an attempt to throw me off. I put the hammer down. In three strides I was even with him. Three more and I was in the lead. He actually said, “Shit” as I pulled away and left him in the dust.
I couldn’t believe how well everything clicked at that halfway point. It’s been five years since I last ran with any want to so I expected to be really slow (usually it takes a couple of weeks to loosen up the legs so they work right).
I’ve felt like I lost a step or two since I hung the running shoes up. It was really nice to feel the rust shake loose within that 150 feet. Too cool, man. I still have it.
I read a lot of cycling posts and articles but not much on tandems, so I thought I’d throw in my two cents on a topic commonly bandied about when riding with single-cyclists (not marital single, one rider per bike “single”). Is the tandem a marriage maker or breaker?
A friend of mine, and a helluva strong cyclist, used to say that on the tandem with his girlfriend was the one place that everything was as it should be in the world.
On the one hand, they’re no longer together. On the other, and with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, he did have a point. For the seasoned tandem cyclist, the tandem isn’t a struggle because you either learn to love it, or you go back to single bikes. For the noob, it gets a little interesting, so if you’re new to cycling and think you might want to try a tandem with your spouse, read on…
First, a few important rules of happy tandem cycling (remember, the captain is up front, the stoker is in the back):
- The captain is the captain. If you can’t accept this, stick with the single bikes.
- The stoker makes no mistakes. Of course they do, right? Oh no they don’t! D’you wanna be right or happy? Happy it is! The stoker makes no mistakes. If you can’t accept this, your marriage will be very short. Stick to the single bikes.
- The stoker is there for one thing: pure, unadulterated power. Yes, you get to look around and talk to everyone, that is the benefit of not having to pilot the bicycle equivalent of a semi.
- The captain is the stronger cyclist for a reason – you’re going to work a lot harder on a tandem – and you still have to keep the thing on the road! Figure 25-30%, give or take. That’s the job. Muscle up, bub.
- Stokers, watch the fidgeting. Every shift you make throws the bike around and it gets a little tricky keeping it on the road sometimes. Don’t worry, you still don’t make any mistakes.
- Captains, the stoker gets every bump on the road and has no time to prepare for them. Miss the road bumps for your stoker’s sake. At the very least, let your stoker know they’re coming so they can brace for it (or get a thud buster seat post). Unlike stokers, captains do make mistakes. Don’t let this be one.
Tandem bikes are a lot like canoes. If you want to know how solid a foundation your marriage is built on, take your spouse for a spin on a tandem. You’ll find out pretty fast. To look at the initial question posed in my Title, though, a tandem is both a marriage maker and a breaker.
A tandem is a relationship intensifier.
This photo is of some friends on the Assenmacher 100 – The photo just fit the post.
Whatever you’re going through in your relationship, a tandem will intensify it. For my wife and I, typically this is a very good thing. Every once in a while, though, WOW! Just remember, on those bad days the goal is to stay married. And the good days? Well, they’re really good. Just enjoy them.
To wrap this up, if you’re going to give the tandem a try, hold onto the single bikes. Every once in a while a break might be needed so you remember how much fun it is to ride together.
I hope this was helpful… or at least a little entertaining.